Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Cereal-legume intercropping systems

Intercropping refers to the inter-planting of different types of crops in the same piece of land. These crops usually include a mix of cereals such as maize, sorghum or finger millets, with legume such as cowpea, common beans and groundnuts. Crops that are intercropped may be planted at the same time or at different times so that one matures before the other, a practice also sometimes referred to as relay cropping.

  • Diversification of soil flora and fauna
  • Increased water infiltration through channels created by diverse roots structures.
  • Growing different crops diversifies sources of food. This also provides insurance against failure of crops in very dry or very wet years and contributes to increased food and feed outputs for human and livestock.
  • Intercropping gives additional yield income/unit area than sole cropping and often higher biomass
  • Improved soil cover and thereby reduced susceptibility to runoff and erosion
  • Weeds are smothered by the high biomass levels in intercrops
  1. What is the objective of the farmer?
  2. The availability of adequate land to accommodate rotations.
  3. If farmers seek to achieve high yields from a legume crop, usually as a cash crop, then rotations provide a better assurance of higher productivity from the legume crop.
  4. The time of planting of cereals and legumes in an intercrop system
  5. The planting configuration and density of intercrops also varies depending on agro-ecology or the seasonal rainfall expected in an area.

The best is to combine with the dwarf crop with a tall crop and one of the crop should mature earlier than the other

  1. Maize and Pigeon peas
  2. Pigeon peas and groundnuts
  3. Groundnuts and soya beans
  4. Sorghum and pigeon peas

Intercropping generally increases competition for water and nutrient resources and so sometimes the yield of cereals gets depressed when moisture is highly limiting. When rainfall or moisture conditions are more conducive intercropping can boost the yield of both crops but in most cases will not be higher when each of the two crops is grown on its own. The main benefit is that the farmer reaps two crops from the same area.

If the shedding effect from the cereal such as maize is too high, the legume crop yield also gets seriously compromised.

No. Planting time depends on the aggressiveness of the legume. Some legumes such as mucuna and cowpea can strangle the cereal if planted too early or at the same time as the cereal so may need to be planted 2 to 4 weeks after the cereal (eg. Maize or sorghum). Farmers should consult their local extension for more guidance on this if needed.

Brachiaria forage-livestock system

Seasonal availability and low-quality forages are attributed to a low livestock productivity in several low- and middle-income countries. Overgrazing, land degradation, and frequent and extended droughts have dwindled the productivity of many cultivated forages. Brachiaria, a native African grass, is well adapted to drought and low fertility soils, produces high amount of nutritive biomass, improves livestock productivity and confers multiple environmental benefits e.g. reduction in greenhouse gas emission and ground water pollution. Brachiaria grass is suitable for both grazing and cut and carry systems of livestock production, and it can be fed to livestock as fresh or conserved as hay and silage for dry season feeding. Read more here.

Brachiaria grass can be grown in almost all soil types in the tropics and sub-tropics within an altitude range from sea level to 2,400 m a.s.l and annual rainfall of above 700 mm but no dry spell of longer than 4 months. Brachiaria grass is more productive when grown in fertile soils with irrigation. Brachiaria grass does not perform well in areas with frost problem. Read more here.

Brachiaria grass can be grown from seeds and from the rooted vegetative tillers (RVTs). For one hectare 5 - 7 kg seeds or 80-160 thousand RVTs (spacing of 0.5 m x 0.25 m) are suggested. For successful establishment, application of phosphorus at a rate of 250 kg Triple super phosphate is necessary or well cured manure at a rate of 10 to 12 t/ha. The cost for growing Brachiaria grass in the first year would be similar to that of planting Rhodes grass, and the cost will reduce by 30 to 40% from the subsequent years. A well-managed Brachiaria grass with regular nitrogen fertilizer topdressing (100 kg N/ha per year) can yield up to three-folds higher net profits than Rhodes grass. Brachiaria grass cultivars promoted by InnovAfrica project are Basilisk, MG-4, Piata and Xaraes. Read more here.

Brachiaria grass has high biomass production potential (30 tons dry matter/ha/year). Its nutritive value is often higher than those of the most tropical grasses. For example, in the highlands of Central Kenya, and low rainfall and sub-humid areas of Rwanda, most Brachiaria cultivars had a mean crude protein content of 14 - 17 % when harvested at 6 to 8 weeks. All cultivars met the minimum level of crude protein required for ruminant maintenance (7%) and milk production (11%). Feeding dairy cows with Brachiaria grass has been proven to increase milk production by 15 to 40% compared to feeding them on local forages. Similarly, substituting Napier grass with Brachiaria in feed increases daily body weight gains in cross bred heifers from 375g to 580 g in Rwanda. Read more here.

Integrated Farm Plan (PIP)

PIP stands for ‘Integrated Farm Plan’ (Plan Intégré du Paysan in French acronyms). It is an approach that stimulates ownership and motivation within farmers.

Instead of thinking for farmers, the approach works with facilitators and extension agents on thinking with farmers, stimulating them to find their own solutions and personal goals.

Coping with soil erosion and decreasing agricultural production are the most common problems addressed

By means of visioning together, planning for the future and integrating all activities leading to a more sustainable farm, the PIP approach allows other innovations to find firm ground and generates farmers willing to innovate, to enable them to reach their own vision and goal.

Village knowledge centres (VKCs)

Village Knowledge Centre (VKC) is an Information and Communication Technology (ICT) digital platform-based system linking farmers through smart phones and social media as a conduit for faster and effective information and knowledge exchange to the rural communities.

It is possible to integrate and VKC very well complements with the ongoing government extensive services, and improves the overall efficiency and outreach

This is highly relevant for smallholders in Africa, as majority of them own mobile phones, and can be easily connected, even in remote areas.

Farmer to farmer extension

Farmer to farmer extension (F2FE) is a participatory action, where smallholder farmers and other marginalized groups identify their own problems and develop their own solutions, teach each other’s, and share their experiences and knowledge. Farmers and/or other marginalized groups are fully involved in the research and extension process through practical sessions such as recipe days, field days, and exchange visits.

The F2FE approach starts with motivated farmers who can reflect their own knowledge and experience. The approach is implemented by establishing a Farmer Participatory Research Teams (FPRTs). This group of motivated farmers serve voluntarily as facilitators and support systems to fellow farmers. They are encouraged to join the FPRTs via in-kind benefits (such as trainings, field trips, exchange visits) and through dialogue on the benefits gained by helping others.

  • Need to possess effective communication skills;
  • Willingness to share information with other farmers;
  • Be able to lead others while being cooperative & approachable;
  • Willing to take risks on new ideas;
  • Gender sensitive –50 percent of the FPRTs members should be women;
  • Honesty, trustworthy, and humble;
  • Development conscious; and
  • Should originate from the same village and be socially accepted

Multi-actor platforms (MAPs)

Multi-Actor Platform (MAP) is defined as a process of interactive learning, empowerment and collaborative governance that enables stakeholders with interconnected problems and ambitions, but often with different interests, to be collectively innovative and resilient when faced with the emerging risks, crisis and opportunities of a complex and changing environment.

Through facilitators with right soft skills and who are curious to understand complexity of the process, confident and humble to listen to opinions and feedback. And by regular interaction with MAPs through various means possible in the project context.

  • Providing extra inputs/resources to support and actively engaging maps: Collaborate
  • Organizing annual workshops and field visits to demonstration sites: Involve
  • Promoting transnational workshops that could produce diverse outcomes: Involve
  • Cross-fertilization of experiences bringing together maps from different countries: Consult
  • Promoting end-user interaction in field visits that helps different actors talk and communicate: Involve
  • Providing timely information and access to relevant project results: Inform

Integrated seed delivery systems

There are formal and the informal seed systems, the latter better being called farmers’ seed systems, since it mostly involves farmers.

The formal seed system is the chain of activities and institutions involved in the breeding and dissemination of certified seeds of improved varieties. Thus at the base of the formal system is the science of plant breeding, in either public organizations or private companies.

In informal seed systems there is no seed certification involved in seed production, and distribution processes are not monitored or controlled by government policies and regulations but rather by local standards, social structures, and norms.

The relative contribution of each seed system to the national seed supply differs between the InnovAfrica case countries, however farmers’ systems deliver the bulk of the seeds used for most crops in most countries in SSA.

Integrated Seed System Development (ISSD) is a term describing approaches to seed delivery that aims at better linking informal and formal seed development and delivery systems.

Integrated Seed Delivery Systems (ISDS) are also called ‘intermediate seed sector development’, and specifically denote approaches such as community-based seed production and community seedbanks (CSBs). Activities and institutions in this intermediate sector may work at one or several stages in the seed value chain, often with the goal to establish quality-controlled seed.

The ISSD puts the focus squarely on farmers’ seed security. The objective is to increase farmers’ access to well adapted and preferred crop varieties.

A common operationaization of ISSD is to support community seed production and smallholder seed enterprises. Such seed production can be both commercial and noncommercial.

Examples of non-commercial approach are “seed loan” schemes in which an institution (such as a cooperative or Community Seed Bank) gives farmers seeds as a loan to be repaid with a seed quantity interest.

An ISSD approach to seed certification is seen e.g. in the QDS system developed by FAO as a less stringent and more locally adapted approach to quality assurance.

It is important that governments recognize the contribution of informal seed system, make sure that there is legal space for them to operate and consider how the informal system can be mobilized to build capacity on quality seed production in the intermediate seed system approaches.

Value chain

A value chain is a concept describing the full chain of a business's activities in the creation of a product or service. According to FAO, a value chain is the full range of activities that are required to bring a product or service from its conception to the final consumers. This includes activities such as design, production, marketing, distribution, and support services. Value chains include local, regional, and global markets.

Value Chain participation bears the potential to link smallholders to profitable markets through skills development and improved linkages with relevant actors. It can be therefore a promising option for lifting rural people out of poverty. Poor households often don't have sufficient resources to pursue the required specialization effort, face considerable trade-offs when allocating these resources and are not able to assume risks. In this context, diversification might play a crucial role for ex-ante risk management and for ex-post coping with adverse shocks. Inclusive pro-poor value chain approaches are required to address the complex trade-offs between income generation, food security and overall livelihood resilience.

InnovAfrica undertook value chain analysis (VCA) of maize, legumes, millets and/or Brachiaria productions including their seed delivery system. The project mapped links between different actors along the value chain (their constraints and opportunities) and describe how it functions and helps in developing innovative agri-business models for smallholders.

The initial InnovAfrica’s value chain selection process included several factors such as:

  1. size of sector and potential to increase rural household incomes;
  2. existence of market demand;
  3. potential for employment generation;
  4. existence of linkages conducive to a market-based approach; and
  5. potential for positive synergies with other government initiatives.

The VCs selected in the six country-cases are all characterised by different levels of complexity and limiting factors. Specifically, although many differences arise between the various VCs and case-studies, smallholders generally experience low and unstable farm-gate prices, limited access to information, inputs and credit, inadequate infrastructures and market opportunities, and inefficient coordination with the other actors operating along the same chain.

Interventions needed at different levels of value chain might be divided in on-farm and off-farm investments. On-farm investments in agricultural innovations (e.g. Sustainable Agriculture Intensification SAI systems and Brachiaria forage) may increase yields and generate additional income for local farmers. Such interventions may also enhance value chain competitiveness and determine a transition to a more market-oriented agricultural sector. In parallel, off-farm investments (e.g. processing technologies and public infrastructures) may also enhance the adoption of agricultural innovations, strengthen the link between smallholder farmers and value chains’ actors, and develop innovative agri-business models for local stakeholders.

Market and value chain information

The project focus is on the profitability analysis of the SAI production systems

  • While in Rwanda the introduction of Brachiaria forage in the farm system increases on-farm operating costs with respect to traditional forages (e.g. Napier grass), in Kenya Brachiaria production leads to operating costs decreases, with a consequent reduction of the total production costs.
  • Despite such differences, increases in main output quantities (i.e. forage yield and cow milk production) and on-farm revenues lead to gross- and net-incomes increases with respect to traditional forage production.
  • Off-farm investment costs happen mainly at the initial investment stage. On-farm and off-farm benefits are equal to zero in the first year and increase during the rest of the investments period. This is due to a gradual implementation rate.
  • As expected, the incremental benefits from the investment plans are negative in the first two years and become positive in the third. The proposed interventions require at least two years to generate its economic returns.
  • Positive NPVs are found in all country-cases, indicating that benefits outweigh the costs and that the investments generate profits over time.
  • Similarly, IRRs are found bigger than discount rates in all the country-cases, confirming the attractiveness of the proposed investments.
  • However, significative differences exist depending on the specific country contexts.
  • In all the country-case studies (Malawi, Ethiopia, Tanzania and South Africa) the adoption of SAI practices may on-farm increase crop yields and farm revenues;
  • Even if, in some contexts, the adoption of such practices leads to increases in operating costs (Ethiopia and Tanzania) and labour costs (Malawi, Ethiopia, Tanzania and South Africa), on-farm budgets indicate positive gross- and net-incomes which are also higher than those obtained for conventional farming practices.
  • Off-farm investment costs happen mainly at the initial investment stage. On-farm and off-farm benefits are equal to zero in the first year and increase during the rest of the investments period. This is due to a gradual implementation rate
  • As expected, the incremental benefits from the investment plans are negative in the first two years and become positive in the third;
  • the proposed interventions require at least two years to generate its economic returns.
  • Positive NPVs are found in all country-cases, indicating that benefits outweigh the costs and that the investments generate profits over time;
  • Similarly, IRRs are found bigger than discount rates in all the country-cases, confirming the attractiveness of the proposed investments
  • However, significative differences exist depending on the specific country contexts.



ICT was mainly used for data collection and central data processing and analysis. The goal was to publish insight independently of computers.

Yes, you can! There are some pitfalls though you should be aware about, like identifiers, master data, data protection, ... - it is all described here

There are several ways depending on your skills and tools available:

  • using a spread sheet you can easily count data and build sums and avarages. If you are familiar with it, you can use so-called Pivot-Tables
  • if you are into BI, there are cheap BI tools now on the market which are able to load about any reasonable data format on earth
  • in case you are a researcher you probably want to use tools like SPSS (or PSPP) or Octave, Maple, Mathematica, ... to do detailed analysis of your data and write programs which you can re-use
You can find some more information about BI here

ICT can do much more for farmers and other members of the value chain if it is being used to collect data at the different production stages. From traceability to profitability calculation to tailored extension services and facilitation of loans there is a wide range of possible benefits once ICT is used.

Master data are data which do not change much and stay consistent over many years or at least different studies. Farmers might have an ID already, regions and villages might be known under administrative or postal codes, input might be accredited and have an accreditation number uniquely identifying it.

If you do not consider such "fixed" IDs you will harvest different IDs for every survey. While for one given survey this might not be a problem, it would almost be impossible to relate data from different surveys to each other later.

The data you are collecting are potentially of huge interest. Be it administrations (think taxes), organisations (think memberships) or companies (think input sales) - they all would be glad to get access to the data you are collecting and the ones giving you their data might, quicker than they thought, experience negative consequences from being open with you. This calls for caution...

One important point are personalized data. As long as data can not be traced back to individuals and only be used as a statistical ensemble used for statistical analysis, the danger to the invidual is minor or even not existing at all. But as soon as you link data to persons, you potentially bring them into trouble.

In case you are interested into EU data protection rules, you may find more information on this specialized site or in the wikipedia article or in the heavy-weight full version.