How to build research partnerships that benefit farmers?

How to build research partnerships that benefit farmers?

9 July 2014. This article was originally published on SciDev.Net and the Southern Times (South Africa). 
True partnerships are vital for linking ‘upstream’ innovation to ‘downstream’ uses, says CGIAR Generation Challenge Programme’s Jean-Marcel Ribaut.

Agricultural research for development spans a broad spectrum of activities — from ‘upstream’ research, generally at universities or advanced research institutes, to much more ‘downstream’ research by plant breeders to put better crops in farmers’ hands.

  • As a result of this spread, activities can become fragmented, with little communication between specialised teams along the research and development (R and D) chain. This is often counterproductive, especially when researchers stretch beyond their area of expertise.
  • In addition, broader and more diverse research portfolios often compromise efficiency and create unhealthy competition for funding. And resulting research projects may never turn into products that improve farm productivity.
  • True and effective partnerships — connecting the right people from complementary teams — is one obvious way to improve R and D effectiveness.

It is important to find right people and teams, and to have adequate financial and human resources to manage partnerships effectively, and as a result believesvagricultural policy research team in African countries should work with a range of partner countries to provide them with support to create policies that will be successfully put into real action.

Demand-driven research needs to strengthen each part of the agricultural industry from production to processing, marketing and to the final consumer. Therefore, key partnerships need to be fostered with other key research organisations, meaning researchers must work more closely development practitioners in agriculture.

More so, governments, policy decision makers and other stakeholders must create agricultural policy clusters, and their mandate must be to provide a knowledge sharing process and information platform to promote innovations, technologies, and best practices that can benefit farmers.

“A key challenge in true partnership is to strike the right balance between management that serves the programme as a whole and creating ownership so all partners can nurture a network spirit.

I must add a necessary note of caution: this model can work only if it builds on strong and well-established institutions, and as a complement to core activities.

Another key element of success is identifying specific research objectives that can be achieved in a given time frame. Our experience also suggests that the benefits of having an independent management team outstrip the cost it entails.

Jean-Marcel Ribaut is director of the CGIAR Generation Challenge Programme, a plant-breeding partnership network hosted at CIMMYT’s headquarters in Mexico. He can be contacted at 

References

[1] Paramjit S. Sachdeva and others Report of the final external review of the Generation Challenge Programme (CGIAR, April 2014)

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