Capacity development for scaling conservation agriculture in smallholder farming systems in Latin America, South Asia, and Southern Africa: exposing the hidden levels


  • Lennart Woltering International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, CIMMYT
  • Maria del Refugio Boa Alvarado Cornell University
  • Joachim Stahl Consultant
  • Jelle Van Loon International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center
  • Erick Ortiz Hernández Consultant
  • Brendan Brown Consultant
  • Mahesh Kumar Gathala International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center
  • Christian Thierfelder International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center


capacity development, learning, scaling, conservation agriculture, development


Capacity development is a major pathway for research for development projects to scale innovations. However, both successful scaling and capacity development are held back by a persistent simplistic focus on ‘reaching more end-users’ and training at the individual level, respectively. This study provides examples of the other levels of capacity development: the organizational, cooperation and enabling environment levels. Drawing on four projects implemented by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) to scale conservation agriculture practices to smallholder farmers, we discovered that these three other levels are  less understood,  appreciated and reported on than individual training. Trainings are popular to report on because they are simple to plan, quantify, verify, and budget, and success in most projects is measured by the number of individuals reached and trained.  There is little awareness and guidance on how to intentionally design and implement projects to address the other capacity development levels. Using a modified framework with clear examples of various types of capacity development activities, project leaders were able to identify and uncover activities that pertain to each of the four levels of capacity development. We argue that project teams must be aware, able, and empowered to invest in the development of capacities of local organizations and the system they operate in. They must be more explicit about the different levels of capacity development, what they mean in their context, and how to create synergies between them. The framework proposed in this paper can serve as a model for initiatives that aim to identify and address capacities at all four levels in order to contribute to large-scale sustainable change.


This research was implemented by CIMMYT and made possible with the generous support of 1) the CGIAR Research Programs on MAIZE ( and WHEAT ( 2) the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) commissioned by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) through the Fund International Agricultural Research (FIA), grant number: 50094078. 3) the USAID-funded Feed the Future project Sustainable Intensification in Maize-Legume Systems in Eastern Province of Zambia (SIMLEZA, Grant No EEM-G-00-04-00013) and Africa Research in Sustainable Intensification for the Next Generation (Africa RISING, AID-BFS-G-11-00002) 4) the government of the State of Guanajuato through SDAyR (Secretaría de Desarrollo Agroalimentaria y Rural) and 5) the government of Mexico through SADER (Secretaría de Agricultura y Desarrollo Rural) and 6) the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR)

The authors thank the anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions to improve the manuscript. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIMMYT or the donors.

Author Biographies

Lennart Woltering, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, CIMMYT

Scaling advisor, Sustainable Agri-food Systems  Program, at CIMMYT and the Gesellschaft fuer Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH.

Maria del Refugio Boa Alvarado, Cornell University

Doctoral student, Development Studies, Cornell University.

Joachim Stahl, Consultant

An independent consultant and former capacity development expert at CIMMYT and GIZ.

Jelle Van Loon, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center

Lead Innovation for Development and  Mechanization Specialist Latin America, Sustainable Agri-food Systems Program, CIMMYT.

Erick Ortiz Hernández, Consultant

Independent consultant and former Hub Manager, Sustainable Agri-food Systems Program, CIMMYT.

Brendan Brown, Consultant

Independent consultant and former Agricultural Innovation Scientist, Sustainable Agri-food Systems  Program, CIMMYT.

Mahesh Kumar Gathala, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center

Cropping Systems Agronomist, Sustainable Agri-food Systems  Program, CIMMYT.

Christian Thierfelder, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center

Principal Cropping Systems Agronomist, Sustainable Agri-food Systems  Program, CIMMYT.


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