By Jonah Muthui (PhD)
Nakuru Living lab (Egerton University, Njoro, Kenya)
The success of a living lab requires active involvement of all actors in co-creating a vision, defining the objectives and identifying activities that achieve these objectives. The REFOOTURE project’s objective is to transform food systems to regenerative and inclusive systems. To achieve this objective, the Ethiopian living lab identified key issues that will influence their success including;
i. Mapping innovation cases: identifying innovation cases that are likely to yield quick results towards achieving a food system transformation.
ii. Conducive policy environment: identifying processes that draw their strength from existing policy or are likely to influence policy change to favor the living labs objectives
iii. Stakeholder engagement: careful identification of stakeholders who share your vision, those who can influence policy and willing to engage in co-creation. It is also important in developing the governance structure of the living lab.
iv. Identifying the issues to be addressed by the living lab; In general, interventions/ solutions to challenges in food systems address 3 successive issues, i.e., productivity, market linkage and technology. These issues also define the roadmap of activities of the living lab.
v. Addressing the “innovation dilemma”: throw some caution on disruptive technologies but gradually improve existing ones in a step-by-step approach
vi. Document all processes to help identify any gains
The Ethiopian living lab is anchored within the research system drawing its synergy from national universities (Bahir Dar University and Jimma University College of Agriculture and Technology) and Agriculture research institutes (Adet and Teppi agriculture research centres). The other actors include livestock, food and feed, and spice farmers in South Achefer and Teppi. This arrangement ensures that the living lab is anchored within the law which stipulates that the research system is led by the National Agriculture Research center.
In South Achefer, there are success stories from dairy and potato farmers who have employed regenerative practices such as use of compost fertilizers to improve their soils, planting trees that repel insect pests, cover cropping and crop rotation. Black pepper production in Teppi is a classic example of an agroecological transformation with double benefits. Farmers grow trees as support for their black pepper crop resulting in an increase in forest cover while there are direct benefits in form of woodlot thereby resolving a possible innovation dilemma. The Ethiopian living lab has engaged agro-dealers, traders, microfinance institutions, non- governmental organizations and policy makers at the national level so as to draw synergy and benefit from leverage from these engagements.