Co-learning and innovation in smallholder agricultural pest management: reflecting on advances in developing alternatives to synthetic pesticides in East and Southern Africa

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Most adaptive research tends to lack involvement of clients and technology end-users, with possible limited uptake of technologies or outright rejection by farmers and/or service providers. This paper reports how a network of scientists at national agricultural research institutes and non-governmental organisations in eight African countries worked together with advanced research institutes and farmers to generate and disseminate pesticidal plant research results, knowledge and skills at national, continental and inter-continental levels through multi-institutional and multidisciplinary collaboration. This diverse network has a unique knowledge and expertise in biorational agricultural pest management, which strengthened knowledge about use of pesticidal plants for smallholder farming. The paper draws specific lessons and learning on innovation from progress made by researchers in Southern Africa working with stakeholders in the development of safer, effective and environmentally-friendly options of managing stored-grain pests, cattle ticks and vegetable pests. The network held a series of workshops through which priority pesticidal plants were identified and some of which have since been tested and found effective. Through these learning platforms, the network has produced, shared and disseminated research and development ideas, protocols, results and skills. The outputs were shared at international conferences/meetings in Africa, Asia and Europe. The quality of research has been raised considerably as evidenced by the number of published refereed papers, popular articles and conference proceedings. Since the network's inception, several research projects have been initiated and other synergistic associations have been forged, propagation materials collected, and techniques for propagation and conservation of botanical pesticides developed. The paper reports practical experiences and strategies for co-learning and co-innovation among stakeholders in agricultural research and development and opportunities for increasing availability of food through capacity building and use of locally available pesticidal plants especially for resource-poor farmers and possibly organic farmers.

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