From 2 to 3 December 2021, the Evidences - Policies - Actions (EPA) Forum had its second edition, organised in a hybrid format under the theme "Connecting data and research to policies to transform the agricultural sector in Benin". Over the two days, public sector officials, researchers, development partners, international organisations, non-profit and private sector actors, and producers' organisations discussed the need to strengthen the ecosystem of evidence production and use in Benin.
About the EPA Forum
The objective of the EPA 2021 Forum was to create a space for dialogue and knowledge sharing between research actors, policy makers and practitioners on the use of evidence in the formulation and implementation of policies and interventions in agriculture, food security and nutrition. The specific interest in the agricultural sector is explained by the role of agricultural research as a lever for development in Benin. Indeed, all the projects initiated and all the reforms undertaken by the Government of Benin in the agricultural sector require the implementation of relevant research and the exploitation of their results.
The Forum is an initiative of the EPA network, coordinated by the Centre d'Action pour l'Environnement et le Développement Durable (ACED), an independent non-profit organisation based in Benin that works on the most important challenges related to agriculture, food security and nutrition. Acting as a think-and-do tank, ACED supports the process of institutionalizing the use of evidence in Benin, both at the local level (communes) and at the central level (ministries, institutions and government agencies).
The four forum themes and their key messages
1. The role of civil society in promoting the use of evidence in the design and implementation of agricultural policies
- CSOs active in agriculture work alongside farmers' organisations to identify the major constraints to the development of their activities. These constraints are then prioritised to formulate project ideas, address research questions and develop project proposals for submission to funding partners.
- To support this development effort and the strengthening of the ecosystem of evidence production and use, the government should increase its investment in research and in the use of research results.
2. Using data and research to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on food systems
- In Benin, the restrictive measures have resulted in a general increase in input and food prices and a reduction in poor households' access to commonly available food.
- At the consumer level, there has been a renewed interest in local food as there has been a replacement of imported food by local products in households, resulting in an increased market share for local products.
- To mitigate the effects of the health crisis and the restrictive measures, the government and its partners should maintain the supporting and mitigating measures put in place to facilitate access to funds by producers and to support the activity sectors that have been heavily affected by the crisis.
3. The ecosystem of evidence use for agricultural development: lessons and perspectives
- In Benin, evidence is produced by different actors, pointing to a lack of adequate funding to generate the quality and quantity of data needed by end-users.
- At the local level, there is a gap between research and evidence users. This is due to a lack of interest in evidence from local authorities and limited synergies between local actors and researchers.
- To ensure the use of the evidence produced, it is necessary to facilitate the co-creation of evidence by producers and users. In addition, it is important to connect and develop partnerships between local decision-makers and the institutions producing the evidence, in order to facilitate its use and sharing.
4. Digitalisation of agriculture and evidence generation: constraints, experiences and lessons
- The use of ICTs in agriculture is still in its early stages in Benin. Initiatives for the development of digital innovations exist in the agricultural sector, but the lack of harmonisation of digital solutions is an obstacle to the development of the sector.
- To strengthen the innovation environment, the following actions are necessary (i) create a synergy between digital learners, other sectors and professionals in the field; (ii) promote the structuring of the ecosystem and the implementation of laws and regulations that provide a framework for the creation of entrepreneurial support structures; and (iii) facilitate access to funding to support national innovators.
The EPA 2021 Forum also provided the opportunity to launch the initiative to identify 100 critical and topical research questions on food security and nutrition (FSN) for which there is a pressing demand and which need to be answered quickly. This initiative will generate evidence that can inform actions and interventions in the field of FSN. The process will be carried out in a number of steps, the most important being: methodological framing, formulation and pre-validation of questions, prioritisation of questions, and publication and dissemination of the results.
Following the two days of discussions, stakeholders in the agricultural sector showed great interest in strengthening the use of evidence in the decision-making process. However, ACED remains aware of the efforts that need to be made to keep the different actors in the ecosystem of evidence production and use in Benin engaged. ACED's and the EPA network's perspectives are therefore to strengthen the actors in the ecosystem of evidence production and use on the one hand, but also to institutionalise the use of this evidence within the municipalities.