CTA .. a new concept in information transfer
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Dellere, Robert. 1987. CTA .. a new concept in information transfer. Spore 7. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/44569
An interview with Robert Dellere, Head of the Technical Division of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA). Grafting new knowledge on to traditional practices SPORE: Through the last six issues of SPORE, our readers have...
An interview with Robert Dellere, Head of the Technical Division of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA). Grafting new knowledge on to traditional practices SPORE: Through the last six issues of SPORE, our readers have got to know CTA and some of the services it can provide for people active in rural development in the ACP states. Before looking in greater detail at those services, can you give us an overall idea of the general aims and fields of activities of CTA ? MR DELLERE: The very broad range of our activities should not be allowed to conceal the fact that everything we have done fits in the very clearly defined mission with which CTA was entrusted when it was established. Your question reminds me of the story of the three stonemasons who were asked what they were doing. The first answered he was breaking up stones, the second that he was earning his living, and the third that he was building a cathedral. CTA is more modest, and we would be satisfied with a small chapel. The objective we have been set is constantly in our minds: to create appropriate instruments and networks to provide for the information needs of those in charge of rural development in the ACP states. All our activities must fit into this overall framework. SPORE: Before taking a detailed look at your activities in 1986, can you explain how your objectives and the means of reaching them are defined ? MR DELLERE: The scope of our activities was defined on the basis of two meetings. The first of these held at Wageningen in April 1984 and bringing together representatives of European and ACP countries, identified the priorities to be taken into account. The second major meeting was a seminar organized in Montpellier in December 1984 with GRET (Technological Research and Exchange Group) and the CIRAD (International Research Centre for Agriculture and Development). The purpose of this was to identify the obstacles to the circulation of scientific and technical information and to decide what could be done to remedy the situation. The recommendations which came out of these two meetings have served as a basis for our activities over the last two years. The priorities which CTA has set itself stem from its primary objective, which is to help ACP states attain a higher degree of food selfsufficiency. We have put special emphasis on the production of vegetable, animal and fish supplies. But we have not neglected cash crops, since these provide financial resources enabling ACP states to cover the cost of transporting food supplies inside the country and to supplement these from external markets. Specifically, the following areas have been covered by CTA activities. For food crops, we have dealt with cassava, rain-fed rice, maize, potato and sweet potato, banana, plantain and fruit production (especially citrus fruits). For cash crops, we have examined cotton and coffee. Other areas relating to agricultural production are seed multiplication, storage of food and seeds, plant pathology, agrometeorology and its application to plant protection, irrigation, biometrics and the uses of biotechnology in agriculture. In the field of animal husbandry, CTA has devoted itself to the following subjects: - cattle feeding, grazing resources (especially in the Sahel), milk production, small ruminants, poultry farming, pig breeding, bee-keeping, tropical veterinary parasitology, draught animals and the role of animal husbandry services. As for fishing, CTA has examined fish breeding, and the processing and preservation of small-scale fish catches. In the field of agro-forestry, the Centre has studied the role this could play in the ACP states, especially as a means of resisting desertification, in conjunction with activities to encourage village tree-planting. CTA is also committed to taking account of problems relating to environmental protection. It has therefore devoted attention to soil conservation and to the rational use of water resources. Consideration is currently being given to the idea of publishing a book to highlight the deterioration of the environment by mankind and to suggest possible remedies. Some socio-economic topics considered by CTA should also be mentioned: the agrarian economy in peasant populations, agricultural research (especially the problem of communicating results to non-specialists), and the role of women in agriculture. SPORE: Now that you have defined the areas of your activity, what can you tell us about the people you are aiming to reach ? MR DELLERE: It is true that many of our activities in the field of information are aimed at people who are, or who will be, in positions of responsibility concerning agriculture whether in the field, in research and development institutes or in decision-making bodies. But our role extends beyond this and we must make efforts to ensure that information which is useful for development can reach people with much more modest educational backgrounds, including peasant farmers themselves. CTA's activities should not be restricted to scientists and to those in charge of agriculture; they should address themselves particularly to rural communities, which could play a key role in increasing food production and in restoring natural resources. Knowledge is not a prerogative of research institutes alone. Peasant experience or the science of the poor, as Paul Richards calls it must not glected. Some of the activities we shall be carrying out in the years to come are aimed at peasant farmers. In this field, our operations will break new ground compared to those of conventional documentation centres. SPORE: Although CTA was established only relatively recently, it is clear that it has already demonstrated that it is not merely one more documentation centre, but an original means of connecting supply and demand in the field of information. MR DELLERE: You are quite right to emphasize that. CTA's role is not to stock documents and just wait for any ~ customers ~ to come and knock on the door. The essential part of our work is, as you say, to bring together the people who have information and those who need it, to break through that sense of isolation which most development workers suffer in their everyday jobs. Our activities are determined in relation to the obstacles to the circulation of information which have been identified. For example, the difficulty of access to scientific and technical information, because of high cost, distribution deficiencies or ignorance of the exisiting possibilities or again, the lack of basic documents in libraries and documentation units (basic works, reference books, periodicals, directories) and the lack of information on current research and projects. There are also other problems, such as excessive secrecy, language barriers, information which is ill-adapted to its target audience (researchers, decision-makers or producers) and inadequate training for documentalists in agricultural sciences or for extension workers in communication techniques. CTA provides a service to meet the information needs of the ACP countries. This can be seen quite concretely in the Question and-Answer service, which has set up a network of relations with numerous specialized sources of information on agriculture in hot climates. These are made up from the major agricultural databases and a network of correspondents from research institutes, cooperation agencies, research departments and individual experts. The services offered.by CTA fall into several different categories: questions may be passed on to specialists or to other sources of information, technical assistance and practical advice may be given, and reference lists of books and other publications are available. We mail basic documents, such as copies of articles, originals, microfiches, statistical data and so on. SPORE: All these activities are passive ones, but we believe CTA does much more than that in the information field ? MR DELLERE: It is true that the things I have mentioned are passive but people will not come to us for information unless CTA makes itself known. We have therefore launched a number of more active operations. In the context of our policy of assisting documentation centres in ACP states CTA finances a number of projects to supply small items of equipment and provide documentation, as well as setting up programmes for documentary support and for the distribution of publications. CTA also organizes training courses and is developing its interest in providing information through the media, especially radio. CTA organizes technical meetings, in the form of seminars or workshops, about six times a year: two in Europe, two in Africa, one in the Caribbean and one in the Pacific. These meetings fall into three categories. Some are forums for discussing agricultural strategy, policy or research. The purpose of others is to assess developments in specific technical or scientific subjects and to allow specialists to exchange information on research programmes in relevant fields. Finally, there are training sessions: refresher courses, training in specialized fields or the acquisition of new knowledge. Parallel to this, CTA gives assistance to seminars organized by other institutions. This has the advantage of broadening the scope of discussions to include the ACP countries, allowing citizens from these states to benefit from the discussions and contacts. It also provides CTA with access to first-hand non-published material and enables us to make ourselves known in new areas. SPORE: Our readers are now quite familiar with the magazine SPORE; is this an efficient means of satisfying the demand for information ? MR DELLERE: Publications are of course vital tools in the information field. In addition to our two annual publications covering our programme and budget and our Annual Report, CTA found it necessary to publish a bi-monthly periodical: SPORE. This is widely distributed to institutions and to people interested in agricultural development in ACP countries, as well as to a number of subscribers in Europe. 7,500 copies of SPORE are published in each of its two language versions, English and French. The magazine is by no means limited to information concerning CTA activities. It also contains in-depth articles, short news items, bibliographical data accounts of technical meetings and descriptions of sources of information of use to ACP countries. CTA contributes to financing the publication of works popularizing scientific and technical information such as the series a Le Technicien d'agriculture Tropicale' and abstracts such as a Bananas and Plan We also publish monographs in the series a Science and Technology for Development )): five volumes in this series are currently being prepared, concerning problems of small-scale animal breeding and agroforestry. Seminar proceedings, either in full or in summary form, are published regularly, as are accounts of conferences organized by CTA. All these documents are available in both French and Enalish. The translation of reference works is a major activity for CTA, which has obtained the copyright on a dozen or so text books of sound scientific value and is translating them either into French or English. CTA supports the publication of periodicals destined for the farming community, in particular <` Caribbean Farm News ~ and the news bulletin RISED, published by the European Environment Bureau. Finally, CTA also carries out studies. These may consist of compiling material or preparing the ground work for technical meetings or publications. Or it may involve drawing up inventories of publications, information sources or research being carried out, or directories of programmes, projects, technical expertise or bibliographies. On other occasions, the work may be the preparation of resorts on topical scientific subjects or summaries of the state of knowledge on a given topic, such as the atlas of grazing potential in the Sahel or books aimed at drawing attention to topical issues such as the degradation of the environment. SPORE: You mention sources of information, and ways of circulating this. But is that enough to reach your target-groups ? There is a big difference between a researcher and a peasant farmer. MR DELLERE: If you don't mind a rather bold comparison, I would say that researchers are doctors, whilst those who disseminate information are dispensing chemists. Our role is to put information into a form which can be assimilated, just as chemists put medecines prescribed by the doctor into appropriate forms, giving injections, pills, solutions, and so on in such a way that the patient will be able to absorb the medicine. Our role is to adapt the information to the target-groups. In fact, we address ourselves to different target-groups. First of all, there are the researchers; what do they need ? They need detailed, up-to-date, well-researched information, together with all the relevant references. Decision- makers and planners are sufficiently educated to understand the information provided by the researchers, but they don't have the time. What they require is very concise information. And then there are the countless numbers of producers. In the countries which concern us, there are perhaps 250 million inhabitants, three-quarters of whom are involved in agriculture. Even if we only take the heads of families, this still amounts to tens of millions of individuals and it is obvious that we cannot address each and every one of them. We are therefore obliged to address an intermediary: the extension worker. The educational and cultural backgrounds of these extension workers are extremely varied. Consequently we must speak to them in a language and style which is accessible to them. This is what CTA aims to do by means of the different media which it uses to disseminate information. It is not an easy task, but it is one that is worth doing. SPORE: Do all these activities mean a cumbersome organization and a large number of staff ? MR DELLERE: No. CTA has always sought to avoid becoming a cumbersome structure. When it was set up in 1984, the Centre employed only seven people, from the Director to the driver. By the end of 1986 CTA had increased its staff to 18 half of them from Europe and half from ACP countries. It has fixed an operational budget and has diversified its programme. During this time, the Centre has established contacts, links and formal agreements with the major institutions in the fields of information, documentation and research in order to be able to fulfill its obligations. CTA is an organization with a small staff and a limited budget. It is an intermediary structure; it must rely on existing structures and draw on expertise from outside. December 1986 can be taken as the end of this second phase. SPORE: When you talk about the end of a second phase, does this mean the third phase will see CTA engaged in an even broader range of activities ? MR DELLERE: No. The third phase should see us consolidating what has been achieved so far and reinforcing our links with our clients, that is with the ACP countries. Now that the CTA has demonstrated its capacity to act, the emphasis must be put on quality. What we need now is in-depth work. More staff will be recruited on the basis of needs we have been able to define more precisely in the course of the previous phase. Our budget will be modified accordingly. The links we have established with ACP countries r'nust be reinforced by setting up regional branch offices. We intend to set up six of these during the duration of the present Lome Convention: in West Africa, East Africa Central Africa, Southern Africa the Caribbean and the Pacific. This network will be supplemented by national focal points, whether these be documentation centres research and development institutions, libraries or any other existing structure which is capable of attaining the objectives which have been set. This phase should be completed by the end of the 3rd Lome Convention. We must already turn our attention to the period after Lome 111. This means carrying out an assessment of the work done by CTA, with a view to defining the role and importance of the Centre in the context of the next Convention. SPORE: Finally, can you answer a question which has more to do with the philosophy underlying your activities than with the work of the Centre itself. Even if one considers the natural sciences as objective factors, information, by virtue of the choices it makes, is not entirely neutral. Through the range of material you produce, what is the dominant image of agriculture you are trying to promote ? MR DELLERE: It would be incorrect to say that CTA is promoting one particular form of agriculture or another, or one specific development policy. Each member country is a sovereign state and it is not up to the Centre, which is a technical cooperation agency, to intervene in their affairs, any more than it is our business to give agricultural lessons to peasant farmers. If we did, it would be a serious denial of our commitments. Nevertheless, as you say, dealing with information means making choices and putting things into a particular form. These choices imply a certain philosophy of what is useful and a particular conception of the transfer of knowledge. Just now, I have explained that we attach major importance to producers, to peasant farmers. We feel our role is to graft on to their experience the conclusions of research which has been tested and confirmed locally, and to bring about technology transfers on the basis of this peasant experience. As Cheik Amidou Khane says, what we must aim for is cultural cross-fertilization grafting new knowledge onto the traditions of the past. Increases in agricultural production, natural resources and food self-sufficiency cannot be obtained by a plethora of projects which will never be carried out for lack of investments. These objectives can only be attained by mobilizing rural production capacities and through the determination of the peasants themselves. We do not share the view of those who decry as failures all development projects financed by international aid. We consider there have been many successes and no doubt a certain number of failures. When there have been failures, this has often been because socio-economic constraints were not taken into account. A good project should have the effect of a catalyst. A good project should be capable of being duplicated, extended and reproduced, which means it does not require heavy investments but investments suitable for the local producers. A good project is one which can be assimilated by village communities and by the producers, which is why people are so important in development. Behind the technology, it is people who are at the centre of any development process. All our efforts should be directed towards people. We firmly believe all our labours should go towards improving their productivity and their well-being.