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Evidence and impact in agricultural research and development

Have years of agricultural research improved productivity? (WRENmedia/FRICH)
Have years of agricultural research improved productivity?

Despite years of agricultural research in Africa, up to 300 million Africans are facing chronic hunger. Low investment in research and development, particularly in recent decades, is seen by many as one factor that has stifled agricultural productivity. However, others feel that progress has been made with research but not enough has been done to demonstrate the impact. Finding the right evidence is a common challenge.

According to leading experts, who attended the 5th Africa Agriculture Science Week of the Forum for Agricultural Research for Africa (FARA), held in Burkina Faso in July 2010, much more can be done to better use research to influence policy, increase agricultural productivity, cut poverty and reduce the impact of agriculture on the environment. During the week, discussions on the impact of agricultural research in alleviating poverty, promoting food security and protecting the environment was a recurring theme. A selection of participants offered New Agriculturist their points of view.

What impact to expect?

We've achieved significant impact in terms of research and technology development. Lots of varieties have been developed, lots of interesting technologies, irrigation systems, new ways of tilling the land. Whether that impact has transferred onto the ground is a different story.
Nadia Manning-Thomas, Knowledge sharing in research specialist, CGIAR ICT-KM program, ILRI

What factors determine the uptake of a technology, such as drip irrigation? (WRENmedia)
What factors determine the uptake of a technology, such as drip irrigation?

We need to be clear what we mean by impact and pathways. Not all research will directly impact on millions of farmers. Basic research can lead to better understanding and methods that others will use to make the social and economic impacts. We must therefore be clear on what the impact is that we are aiming for and the indicators that will use to determine if we achieve this impact.
David Howlett, Senior visiting research fellow, Africa College

The ways we determine impact, in terms of how we identify what impact we want to have, should be collectively decided by the stakeholders. Once we have decided on what impact we want to bring about, then we start putting the systems in place to achieve that desired impact.
Judith Ann-Francis, Senior programme coordinator, CTA

We have made an impact research-wise. There is a lot out there in the labs and among researchers. We have really come a long way. The issue now is how do we apply those results and have a much larger impact?
Abdoulaye Barry, Researcher, Burkina Faso

Finding evidence - a difficult challenge

Evidence is very difficult because we don't have the data. So putting systems in place that can accumulate and analyse data is very important. Translating data into a way in which policymakers can understand it is also very critical.
Hameed Nuru, Senior director of policy and external affairs, GALVmed

It's difficult because sometimes we have to look at a poverty agenda, sometimes we have to look at a production agenda, and sometimes it's a social agenda. That needs a lot of skills and you need to work with a lot of partners, and it's quite difficult without a standard methodology of bringing all those partners together so that each of those evaluations has the same weight and the same importance.
Elizabeth Dodsworth, Global director of knowledge management, CABI

Finding evidence is often an uphill struggle (WRENmedia)
Finding evidence is often an uphill struggle

Before we start any project or programme we need to put in place the right mechanisms for measuring impact. These include visiting the sites, talking to farmers, using radio and giving farmers that opportunity to air what they feel the impact has been on their lives.
Patrick Maundu, Ethnobotanist, Bioversity

We now have improved methods of evaluation of communication processes and communication products, which can measure to what extent the message has gone across. While we tend to focus on the physical evidence in impact assessment, it is equally important to study the information pathways and accompany the process with evaluation of its effectiveness. That will help in achieving impact, the visible type that is!
Krishan Bheenick, Information, communication & training officer, SADC

With impact in development there is no unique way of presenting impact. We need to agree on what sorts of indicators people are going to use to show impact but also to share, to have a common system. People need to collaborate more and at least agree on a few ways to observe changes.
Ibrahim Khadar, Planning and strategic services manager, CTA

Transforming research for greater impact

One of the reasons we have not been able to engage farmers more actively is because the universities that do research are located in urban areas and are not directly linked to farmers. What we need is a new generation of African agricultural universities that are located where the farmers are, that are open to farmers' input, or you have the students spending their time on the farm, so that there is this continuous interaction between the farmers and the universities.
Dr Namanga Ngongi, President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)

Should indigenous knowledge be integrated in all aspects of research and development? (WRENmedia)
Should indigenous knowledge be integrated in all aspects of research and development?

To advance agriculture in Africa we need to understand indigenous knowledge systems and integrate indigenous knowledge and technologies in all aspects of research and development.
Anke Weisheit, Research fellow, Mbarara University of Science and Technology, Uganda

Droughts, diseases and unexpected threats are drawing the impact back. Our best research needs to be focused on predictions to tackle the uncertainties. If they are tackled, then the impact will be very visible.
Mohammed Kyari, Scientific officer, African Union

Research needs to continue but it needs to be reprioritised and refocused from the perspective of the farmer. In terms of accessibility, affordability, and adoptability by the farmer, very simple technologies that can overcome those problems are key.
Hameed Nuru, GALVmed

We can ask for increased investments and the need for better policies. But it has to start with ourselves - we need to aim for excellence in our research and focus it on solving the problems of farmers in Africa.
David Howlett, Africa College

Working with others and sharing information

Research alone can't change things. We need to combine research, policies and technologies and all the stakeholders should work together so that we can make significant change.
Sylvain Mapatano, Plate-forme Diobass au Kivu Coordinator, DRC

The needed impact is not quite there because of the linkages between research and extension. We still need to work on that linkage if farmers are to access the required technologies.
Grace Malindi, Director, Department of Agriculture Extension Services, Malawi

Scientists often lack training in communication (WRENmedia)
Scientists often lack training in communication

Many people are doing research in Africa, however it is not trickling down to the end users. Researchers should work with other stakeholders so that innovations, results, technology and other important findings are transferred to the farmer.
Mary Abukutsa Onyango, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture & Technology, Kenya

We have to be smart in the research community and feed into the policy processes. Scientists are very good at communicating amongst themselves but lack training in communicating to others. Dealing with this weakness will be challenging. You must never underestimate the time and resources required to communicate effectively.
Michael Hailu, Director, CTA

All programmes should have a good communications strategy so that the messages are communicated to the farmers, to the extension workers, to the researchers, to the policy people in clear statements so that the same message is distributed several times.
Elizabeth Dodsworth, CABI

The best way we can present the evidence for impact in agriculture to policymakers is through making sure that it is simple and in a format that they can understand. And we should also ensure that this information is relevant to their situations in their various jurisdictions and most importantly, whatever evidence that we present must be backed up by facts.
Jacqueline Nnam, Knowledge sharing officer, FARA

Critical next steps

What is most critical is to have a conducive policy environment where the researchers can have sufficient money to research and generate the technologies, the private sector can invest and take their profits out, and the farmers can be able to interface with the different players.
Lindiwe Sibanda, CEO of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN)

We need to have a mechanism that can make our policymakers and decision takers be much more alive to their responsibilities. There has been a lot of policy neglect. Some policies are there but the implementation has been a problem.
Marcel Nwalozie, Director, NPCA West Africa Mission, New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD)

How can policy-makers support new agricultural businesses? (WRENmedia)
How can policy-makers support new agricultural businesses?

Research on its own won't deliver the impact unless we have innovation and extension systems that work, and of course credit for farmers and access to markets. We also need research that meets the needs of farmers, that is sustainable and uses the best of ecological and scientific approaches.
David Howlett

African governments and policymakers should provide appropriate incentives to encourage the best and the brightest to get into agricultural research and development, and also so that we don't lose them to other, developed, countries. It's very important that we have local capacities to be able to be innovative and adapt technologies to fit our local needs. And to do all that you need highly trained and skilled people.
Michael Hailu, CTA

Invest in the young and engage them in terms of helping us craft new ideas for saving agriculture and food. They have bright ideas, new ideas. We definitely need to bring them in to really help us to shake up the way we do business in the agricultural sector.
Judith Ann-Francis, CTA

Date published: September 2010


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