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Multi-Disciplinary North-South Collaboration in Participatory Action Research on Food Value Chains: a German-Tanzanian Case Study on Perceptions, Experiences and Challenges


Upgrading local food value chains is a promising approach to invigorating African food systems. This endeavour warrants multi-disciplinary North-South collaboration and partnerships through participatory action research (PAR) to help leverage appropriate upgrading strategies (UPSs) with a focus on local stakeholders. The more disciplines, cultures, and partner institutions that are involved, the more a project will present challenges in terms of communication and coordinating activities. Our aim was to determine the costs and investigate whether PAR with a multi-disciplinary approach was feasible in rural Tanzania with over 600 local stakeholders and more than 100 scientists. This article presents a self-evaluation of the collaboration and communication of project scientists during their research activities. Despite the overall high satisfaction, the more complex and complicated PAR activities required more cooperation, instructions and communication among the project scientists than had been anticipated in this multi-disciplinary, multi-cultural, and multi–institutional context, resulting in greater tension and dissatisfaction. The findings indicate that this type of large multi-disciplinary PAR is challenging in terms of flexibility in the planning of research activities, the administration of finances, and cross-cultural communication. Potential avenues to overcome these obstacles include a) more communication on PAR activities across cultures to develop a shared vocabulary; b) developing other modes of shared responsibility for a more horizontal collaboration; and c) more face-to-face cross-cultural activities to overcome cultural, disciplinary and geographical distance.

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    The term stakeholder, as it is used in our context, refers to a) individuals who are directly affected by decisions and actions such as local farmers and b) key informants from groups and organizations that have power to influence the outcomes of these decisions, for instance, NGOs or local, regional, and national governments (Freeman 1984; Fig. 1).


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This publication is a product of the project Trans-SEC ( The Trans-SEC project was funded by The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and co-financed by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). The views that are expressed are solely those of the authors and may not under any circumstances be regarded as representing an official position of the BMBF or BMZ. Thanks to the reviewers for their helpful suggestions.

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Correspondence to F. Graef.

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Graef, F., Mutabazi, K.D., Sieber, S. et al. Multi-Disciplinary North-South Collaboration in Participatory Action Research on Food Value Chains: a German-Tanzanian Case Study on Perceptions, Experiences and Challenges. Syst Pract Action Res 32, 359–378 (2019).

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  • Participatory research
  • Food security
  • Food value chains
  • Communication
  • Tanzania
  • Multi-cultural context