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Lessons from West Africa: Five Leverage Points

Our dynamic program in West Africa works with partners in Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal and Ghana, who collaborate and exchange to sharpen their strategies to better catalyze community-based and farmer-driven agroecology. With this network in place, we strengthen local initiatives and make agroecology more accessible to family farmers through shared learning.

Peter Gubbels, Director for Action Learning and Advocacy, sums up five key leverage points that have emerged:

1. Document existing work and draw out key lessons.
We put structures in place to help farmers document their agroecological practices, enabling us to learn from successes, and implement changes where improvement is needed. Documentation also helps us draw out best practices that can be shared with other farmers.

2. Increase the capacity of women to empower themselves.
While the majority of small holder farmers in the world are women, many lack access to land, seeds, credit, water, training and other key inputs that make them successful. We address this inequality by helping women organize themselves into groups and strengthen their leadership. They are able to better negotiate within their communities to change local laws and customs (land ownership, for instance), resulting in increased access to these inputs and as well as more power in decision making.

3. Improve infant nutrition.
The first three years of a child’s life are the most important when it comes to nutrition. Lack of nutrition during this critical period leads to chronic malnutrition, causing lifelong physiological and cognitive impairment due to a lack of key nutrients. This is crucial in West Africa, where millions suffer from chronic malnutrition, and are affected for life. We focus on nutrition education and promoting crop diversity to support families in achieving diverse, and nutritionally appropriate diets.

4. Support a holistic approach to equity.
The development model for agriculture is outdated because it often treats all farm families in a district as if they are the same. We recognize that huge differences in wealth and resources exist within the rural communities we serve. We also know that the poorer families are the most vulnerable to hunger and malnutrition. We develop approaches that reach marginalized groups and ensure equitable results within communities.

5. Scale success from one farm to another.
Our partners work in rural villages. When new solutions to common challenges emerge at the local level, we support farmer-to-farmer learning and local, decentralized training, to create a multiplier effect and spread those innovations to neighboring villages and beyond.

The farming families and communities we work with are truly the ones driving and spreading agroecological innovation. More than just a set of farming technologies, agroecology is a process that links all of these elements and is led by local organizations creating positive social change from the ground up.

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