An effective global agricultural research systemdepends on a strong contribution at national level
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CTA. 1997. An effective global agricultural research systemdepends on a strong contribution at national level. Spore 71. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/48872
An effective global agricultural research system depends on a strong contribution at national levelThe international scientific community aims to coordinate its agricultural research efforts within a global system which brings together the national...
The international scientific community aims to coordinate its agricultural research efforts within a global system which brings together the national agricultural research systems (NARS), the international research institutes of the CGIAR system and the institutions and research centres of the industrialized countries. For Dr Oumar Niangado, the efficiency and legitimacy of this system depend largely on the role played within it by the national agricultural research systems of developing countries. The national agricultural research systems in developing countries have a determining role to play in global development research. Everyone remembers the financial crisis that the international agricultural research centres of the CGIAR system experienced two or three years ago. And no-one could forget the deep crisis in confidence which shook the research community. It should also be remembered that from 1974 the international centres were to improve the competence of the national systems. However, over twenty years later, yields of cereals, for example, have not achieved the results expected. Why? We often hear it said that all it requires to achieve a green revolution in Africa is to select high yielding varieties and transform the environment. But our farmers are not able to transform their environment. They do not have the means to do so because they are poor. Often they do not even have a pair of oxen. How can they make use of a technology that requires them to work their soil to 20cm depth or to apply fertilizers which they do not have? On the other hand, what they do have is a tradition and a knowledge of how to do things in their own environment and it is upon this knowledge that research should be based. The materials, methods and technologies put forward should be based on and adapted to the local environment, not the other way around. This is where the problem lies and it is also why, so often, new technologies developed on the research stations of international centres are found to be inappropriate for farmers in the South. It is for this reason also that I am entirely in agreement with the view expressed by Jean Pichot in Something else, some other way (Spore 65). The aims of agricultural research have been too, high and too far-reaching. Techniques, choice of varieties and biotechnology are out of touch with the real needs of people. In reality our farmers have problems that are relatively easy to define: they need virus-resistant varieties of tomatoes, or cereals that resist striga or a specific insect. They may need, for example, an earlier maturing variety to avoid the risk of drought in the final stages of growth. Farmers also have needs for services that are unrelated to research, for example, a supply of fertilizer or access to credit. They need to be trained in order to understand how the market works, how to gain access to it and how to manage their business. In short, what farmers need are service providers rather thon development bodies but what we see is this 'global system' of agricultural research. 'Who directs research initiatives?' is the question that should be asked. Southern scientists, including those from Africa, should be able to exercise more influence over CGIAR decision-making and the general directions taken by the global system. Donors and institutions within industrialized countries have encouraged regionalization and one effect of this has been to develop what have become known as eco-regions. But whatever initiatives the CGIAR and the international scientific community may take, they are ultimately dependent on the NARS if those initiatives are to be effective. I do not believe that it is realistic to contemplate a regional approach to research conceived from on high. On the contrary, we should start from the bottom, with the national systems that are able to listen to what local people need, and respond to their immediate and straightforward requests. Efficiency demands this. Everyone talks nowadays of participatory development and involving users in programme planning, implementation and evaluation, in other words the 'user-driven project'. It is the NARS which are best placed for achieving this essential, grassroots contact. Who better than the NARS to talk to the users or better understand their needs? We share the same environment and traditions and are therefore much better able to judge what is needed than those who can only hear about it or try to understand it from afar. To be truly effective, the NARS should undertake without delay a survey of farmers' needs. Difficulties which do not often come to light or which are rarely expressed should also be taken into account. However, this work can only be done by people based in developing countries. NGOs and rural organizations have an important role to play and have become partners in this work which is also helping to encourage local, professional leaders. Above all, we should stop trying to transfer technology according to imported concepts or principles. In Mali, for example, we have developed our systems approach over 20 years with the help of KIT (Royal Tropical Institute, The Netherlands) because we believe that we need regional teams that are capable of listening to local people, taking note of the challenges they face and using this knowledge to plan research projects. As a NARS we need to take on board problems to which we can bring solutions but those to which we cannot respond we transfer to the regional level. For us in the South, the challenge of the future lies in this role. We shall only be satisfied when we can truly match our research programmes to the needs of local people. We are trying to do it. We have not yet totally succeeded, but we shall get better. Problems that can best be resolved at a regional level will continue to emerge, which justifies the need for a global system. However, it will not be effective unless the NARS are strengthened. This is essential if we are to meet the needs of the people for whom we work and from whom we seek support. [caption to illustration] Dr Oumar Niongado is Director-General of the Institut d Economie Rurale (IER) in Mali. He is a plant breeder who has specialized in millet and in the course of his career he has been responsible for developing many improved varieties. In 1979 he set up the Cinzana Research Station in Mali which he directed until his appointment as Director-General of IER in November 1992. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CTA