Farming Systems and Rural Livelihoods

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International Postgraduate Course

Farming Systems and Rural Livelihoods

To be announced



Through the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) the world has set ambitious aims, of which many are related to and affected by agriculture. SDG-2 is particularly relevant for rural livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa as it aims to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture. Yet a number of trends and pressures complicate achieving SDG-2, including massive demographic growth, natural resource degradation and climate change. In this course, you will acquire skills and learn methods to deal with the complexity of smallholder agriculture and the many interlinkages with other SDGs towards carving out pathways for sustainable development of smallholder farming systems.

Typically, these skills and methods integrate agro-ecological analyses with understandings of the social-institutional organization of agricultural production, and the differential ways in which the wider socio-economic environment impacts on farming systems (e.g. the importance of rural-urban linkages, value chains, socio-cultural orientations in rural livelihoods). Special attention will be given to the vulnerability of agricultural production and aspects of food security and poverty in the face of global environmental, social and economic change. Multi-criteria approaches for assessing trade-offs in multiple domains of sustainability will be compared, as well as different tools and methods for analysing community diversity, going from typologies to distribution analysis.

Field observation of rural household activities, farms, and farm practices, serves not only to characterize different farming systems, but is informative also regarding the rural livelihoods of which they are part. What do farm and household observations tell us about rural households' dependence on farming, vis-a-vis others source of income, such as off-farm employment and urban remittances? In farming systems analysis, field data are often complemented with modelling, for a more powerful exploration of options feeding into the design of improved system configurations. Hence, you will learn how participatory methods for obtaining and conveying information can be combined with various modelling tools.

Linking farm and field observations on key livelihood indicators (income, food security, nutrition) with wider demographic, socio-economic and agro-ecological trends, we can better understand the historical dynamics of smallholder farming practices, and their changing significance in rural livelihoods systems in sub-Sahara Africa. This then informs the design of pathways towards sustainable development in which flourishing livelihoods are integrated within a healthy environment.

Learning objectives
After the course participants are able to:

1. Understand farming system functioning and explain the theories underpinning farming systems analysis.
2. Use simple (participatory) methods for data collection and characterization of farming systems.
3. Interpret the concept of sustainable rural livelihoods, along with identifying and applying criteria, indicators and methods for its assessment.
4. Analyse the contribution of agriculture to rural livelihoods and assess farm and farming system performance based on relevant indicators.
5. Identify entry points, analyse trade-offs and evaluate opportunities for sustainable intensification, using scenario analysis and simple (optimization) models.
6. Have insight and understanding of a wide range of methods for description and analysis of farming systems.

Course set-up, activities and expected outputs

The course will consist of a series of lectures, discussions of these lectures, field trips and on-site group work activities. Furthermore, using the DEED cycle (Describe, Explain, Explore and Design) a wide range of methods for description and analysis of farming systems will be introduced and used. These methods include:

  • Resource flow mapping, village transects, rich pictures, village maps, focus group discussions
  • Farm descriptions, household questionnaires
  • Typologies of fields and farms
  • Descriptive and multivariate statistics
  • Simple simulation models at field and farm scale
  • Network analysis, nutrient flows and balances
  • Multi-criteria analysis, trade-off analysis

The course ends with a feedback session in the communities and a scientific seminar open to local researchers and interested parties.

Group work activities and outputs
We will work with four groups that include a mix of nationalities and disciplinary backgrounds. The four groups will each work in a different location with contrasting farming systems due to agro-ecological, institutional and marketing differences. We will start with joint visits to all four sites, which will introduce the setting and prevailing issues – based on understanding the landscape, geology and pedogenesis, history and culture.

Using the DEED cycle, each group must identify the main issues at stake in their site with respect to the current farming systems, the livelihoods, their vulnerability and the degree to which they can adapt and sustainably develop. Accordingly, each group develops a research proposal, identifying the main issues to be investigated, a research approach and methodology, expected research outputs and outcomes that can eventually lead to a sustainable farming system, which contributes to improved livelihoods. The groups are free to embrace issues of village level institutions, as well as options for improvement of farm performance and/or ecosystem services. It is important to choose methods that fit the purpose of meeting the specified research outputs.

Besides the research proposal, the groups are expected to organize a feedback session with the community, during which they present their analysis of the situation and the proposed research. The feedback received from the farmers has to be taken into account in the final proposal and the seminar the next day. The course will end with an open seminar with key stakeholders where each group will present their work in 20-minute presentations, followed by 10 minute discussion.

General information
Target Group The course is aimed at PhD candidates, postdocs, and other academics
Group Size Min. 15 / Max. 30 participants
Course duration 13 days
Language of instruction English
Frequency of recurrence Once every 3-4 years
Number of credits 3 ECTS
Location To be determined
Accommodation Accommodation and full board catering is included in the fee of the course
More information

Dr. Lennart Suselbeek (PE&RC)
Phone: +31 (0) 317 485426

Registration of interest

At this moment, this course is not scheduled yet. However, if you register your interest in this activity below, we will inform you as soon as the course is scheduled and registration of participation is opened.