Friday, July 23, 2010

Shining a little light on African agriculture

By Susanna Thorp, WRENmedia

“African scientists are publishing more than they used to but they are not doing justice to the science they produce,” says Stephen Rudgard of FAO. “Most outputs of agricultural research are not truly visible. We have to realise this is a major challenge.”

Although science in Africa is becoming more accessible, there is still a long way to go, he said in the opening presentation for Enhancing the accessibility of research outputs through more coherent knowledge centres and networks. Rudgard continued, “There are some serious gaps in inter-regional collaboration with very few open access repositories in Africa. It is no means dark but there could be more progress. Even access to information from international centres varies considerably and is not always that strong.”

“Capacity building and communication can do much for an agricultural research organisation,” emphasised Dr A. B. Salifu, director-general of CSIR in Ghana. He highlighted how successful this had been when making a call for research proposals. After capacity building was offered in proposal writing, three times as many projects were selected for funding. In addition, he said, most researchers had increased confidence to submit articles to the national press.

“In Africa, our greatest problem has always been capacity,” said Salifu. “For too long we have been reactive rather than proactive. This has to change.” To provide better visibility of CSIR’s research in the media he stated that they had also worked with selected media houses to train five science journalists to work with. In addition, an ICT/communications manual had been launched for the benefit of CSIR researchers.

Break out sessions to discuss the key incentives and benefits for individual researchers of making research outputs truly accessible identified personal recognition for ones efforts, career progression, getting research into use, more networking opportunities as well as access to funding resources and contribution to science and development.

“The issues highlighted by the group affect how research is shared,” stated Rudgard as he introduced the global partnership CIARD initiative, which was launched in 2008 to provide improved coherence for information in ARD. [Achievements during the last two years include development of a manifesto, a health checklist for institutions to see where they stand in terms of information sharing, pathways on how the checklist can be reached and, through, GFAR, a registry of more than 100 agricultural information services.]

“Since the launch of CIARD, we have learnt that we need to diversify the ways in which we make information accessible,” he continued. “There are many information knowledge management tools and it is not always clear which ones to use. Institutions and individuals need guidance and training. There is no one size fits all. We have to tailor solutions according to identified needs and we must co-ordinate our efforts.”

Complementing and adding value to others is the aim of FARA’s multi-partner RAILS (Regional Agricultural Information and Learning System) initiative, introduced to the delegates by Dady Demby of FARA. The approach focuses on ‘bringing people together in promoting effective use of ICT tools through relevant processes for content development and knowledge sharing.’

“Through this initiative we are contributing to improving access to knowledge on African ARD, providing information in the right format for the right audience,” said Demby. “Through national learning teams, composed of a variety of stakeholders, working together as intermediaries, we have been able to significantly increase access to information and knowledge sharing.”

Further information on RAILS and CIARD can be accessed at: and

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