Enabling Rural Innovation (ERI) is a strategic and participatory approach that puts small-scale farmers in the center of development processes. ERI strengthens farmers’ social and entrepreneurial capacities in order to make the transition from subsistence to market – oriented agriculture while safeguarding food security and sustainable management of natural resources.
ERI is a solution focused approach, it stimulates farmers organized in groups to (re)discover their existing resources (natural, social, financial and personal) and enables them to find innovative solutions and make informed decisions on marketing, production and consumption. In many other approaches, farmers are seen as ̕beneficiaries and passive recipients who need to be told what to do: They are expected to take up new ideas and solutions that have been designed for them by experts who think they know what works best for the farmers. ERI looks at farmers differently: active or potential agro-entrepreneurs who can take matters into their own hands. It is up to them to choose what they need and want after being supported in acquiring objective information. Key in the approach is to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit: producing what they can market rather than trying to market what they produce. ERI enables farmers to respond appropriately to ever changing, dynamic markets. Because these are live skills and attitudes, the impact of the approach is sustainable and reaches far beyond a specific enterprise or farmer group.
Income security must not compromise food security and sustainable use of natural resources. The ERI approach therefore helps farmers to balance food and cash crop production through easily applicable decision-support methods and puts a great emphasis on natural resource management.
How was ERI developed?
The ERI approach was initially developed by The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) with the aim to help rural communities in Eastern and Southern Africa in exploiting market opportunities to improve their livelihoods. This initiative has emerged from three main streams of CIAT’s experiences: (i) Participatory Research, (ii) Rural Agro-enterprise Development and (iii) Natural Resource Management. The aim of ERI is to use the most effective elements from these three approaches when working with rural communities to build more robust livelihood strategies. CIAT and Africare piloted ERI in Uganda in 2003 with –among others- farmer communities in Kabale district. One of them is the famous Nyabyumba United Farmers Association, that, after an ERI training cycle, managed to obtain a long term trade relationship to deliver ~11 tons/month of ware quality potatoes to a fast food restaurant in Kampala (Nandos).
Through a collaboration with the Centre for Development Research (CDR) at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (BOKU), lessons learned on the ERI approach have been synthesized and strategies to scale out the ERI approach have been developed. Based on this and other successes, Trias Uganda and its partners decided to adopt the approach in a six year programme (2008-2013), which turned out to be very successful. Similarly HORIZONT3000 started to use ERI in its partner organizations with a peak in 2013 when the ERI East Africa project was launched.
In 2011, Trias Uganda in cooperation with HORIZONT3000 and their partners, decided to consolidate its experiences in a very practical and concise manual. Mango Tree was commissioned to develop simple visual tools to increase effectiveness and efficiency of the trainings. By now, several partners of Trias (in Uganda, Guinea, Philippines and Bangladesh) and HORIZONT3000 (in Uganda and Tanzania) have embedded ERI into their way of working. After the launch of the manual, also Agriterra and ZOA decided to use the approach for the work with their partners (in Northern Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Burundi, and even Indonesia). Trias partners in Guinea have meanwhile translated the manual to French.