Forging the impact pathway to better potato harvests in Africa

A common goal of RTB and the International Potato Center (CIP) is to increase potato productivity by improving farmer access to quality seed potato. To enhance the effectiveness and value of investments in seed system initiatives in East Africa, representatives of RTB, CIP and local partners met in Nairobi, Kenya last month to develop a flagship, or cluster of activities, for improving potato seed systems.

The push to organize research activities into flagships is part of RTB’s implementation of results-based management (RBM). The research program is moving from an organization around disciplinary themes to one based on flagships and impact pathways that will allow the centers and their partners to better track progress toward outcomes and impacts.

RTB’s efforts to develop the flagship for quality potato seed complements an objective of CIP’s new Strategy and Corporate Plan. This is because improving access to quality seed potato could have a dramatic impact on smallholder incomes by raising yields, which would allow farmers to move from subsistence production to production for sale. However, CIP and the other RTB centers can’t undertake such efforts alone, and would be incapable of scaling them up. They need to link with research and development partners, and leverage their knowledge, skills and networks to reach large numbers of beneficiaries.

RTB and CIP potato scientists invited a dozen partners from East Africa to the Nairobi meeting to work together on the definition of seed potato impact pathways, and to test and improve preliminary chains of impact, which extend from research activities to impacts. This will ensure that these organizations can work effectively as a team toward the CGIAR system-level outcomes: food security, improved nutrition, poverty alleviation and natural resources management.

Working on the impact pathway

Partners working on the impact pathway

Representatives of partner organizations in Kenya, Ethiopia and Rwanda, most of which have a long history of collaboration with CIP, were introduced to a preliminary impact pathway for quality seed potato, which is both an RTB flagship and a CIP strategic objective. They were invited to critically analyze the logic of the pathway by considering its different stages from product release to research and development outcomes, and to make changes they deem necessary, including adding stages, strategies, stakeholders, and needed skills.

“We began with a linear, basic impact pathway, so that we could gather around, understand its principles and discuss it,” said Sophie Alvarez, the process facilitator. “However, we all realize that the process can’t be so linear. As we dig deeper into what it entails to make the pathway a reality, we start coming to grips with the complexity of the system and networks in which impact happens in the real world”.

Incorporating gender in the impact pathway

Incorporating gender in the impact pathway

The partners expressed the need to include gender, communications and knowledge sharing components in different blocks to support the delivery on impacts. They were reminded that such components aren’t stand-alone goals, rather tools to achieve goals. This may mean that we must consider both male and female seed multipliers for training on new technologies, or that the messaging on the importance of quality seed potato should take cultural contexts into account. Who better than the partners, with the most experience in the field, to identify such vital action points?

By the end of the workshop, the wall of the meeting room was covered with impact pathways that demonstrated the complexity of the flagship. Those pathways also illustrated the complementarity of CIP, RTB and partners on the journey toward development outcomes.

The same exercise will be undertaken with another group of partners in September around the RTB flagship for controlling Xanthomonas wilt, a disease that is devastating banana farms in Africa.

Read the workshop report: Business plan for going to scale with quality seed potato

impact pathway quality seed

At the end of the workshop, the different impact pathways are displayed and discussed