Efforts by Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) to promote a holistic approach in agricultural research, through its Strengthening Capacity and Agricultural Research and Development (SCARDA) project, have created an enabling environment for regional integration and elimination of unnecessary costs in Southern Africa.
Dr. Joyce Macala, Southern African Development Community (SADC) Focal Person for SCARDA said, “Through working together since June 2008 the three SCARDA countries, Botswana, Lesotho, and Zambia have seen the benefit of integration through the SCARDA.”
This follows revelation that the British Department of International Development (DFID) is currently funding seventeen (17) Master of Science Degree students from the three countries who are enrolled in universities in the SADC region.
Macala pointed out that, given the fact that SADC, seeks through its food and Natural Resources (FANR) Directorate to promote high quality agriculture research that is beneficial to people involved in Agriculture in the region, the 17 trainees formed a vital joint resource for the SADC SCARDA countries.
Central to the objectives of the project is the empowerment of research managers, with management skills and promotion of partnership of all stakeholders in agricultural research.
The significance of this, according to Macala, would be to produce professionals who would be well rounded up with the appropriate tools to tackle practicalities of research, while at the same time equipped enough to manage the financial and other resources allocated for enabling effective conduct of their mandate.
In addition to the ongoing MSC training, managers from focal institutions such as the Department of Agricultural Research in the involved countries are exposed to short term training courses covering a wide range of topics as capacity strengthening measures.
Contained in their training programs, are modules on strategic planning, Human Resources mobilization, and personal development skills to enhance their confidence and ability to overcome research related challenges.
It is intended that at the end of the 30month period, the stipulated timeframe, which is set to lapse June, 2010, research managers of the involved countries should have realised the full benefit of adopting an integrated and holistic approach in research for development.
When asked what she meant by a holistic approach, Macala posited that, it translated into ensuring that all key role players are involved in the value chain.
For example, once research is done, farmers’ challenges and needs should be seen to have informed the purpose and substance of the research.
Moreover, input managers and suppliers must also be duly accorded their stake in the research schedule, as well as does those involved in the marketing of produce.
That means research would be demand driven, thus, the outcome of such research naturally carries immense potential to influence policy decisions at both regional level and national level in the respective countries involved.
To give credence to this line of thinking Dr. Matla Ranthamane, Director of Agricultural Research, from Lesotho had a mouthful to say.
“One thing that I personally appreciate and realise my colleagues from Zambia and Botswana were equally excited about, was when a presentation was made on how to take management or staff on board the change train,” intimated Ranthamane.
The crux of the presentation was that for people to accept change they must be involved. Managers would see the significance of involving farmers as well as other value chain stakeholders, so that they can own up the change proposed or recommended by researchers or managers.
For his part, Moses Mwale Deputy Director Technical Services from Zambia Agricultural Research institute which is a department in the Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives, expressed the view that it would be nice if the project were to be extended by another year or two.
Reasons given for the proposal were that the project started late than was intended and so to give full effect to the objective of broadening the capacity building net, there was need to extend the time frame.
Due consideration should also be given to the fact that since the training of MSC students is time bound and started with the project, the completion would be made to tally with the conclusion of the project.
Key stakeholders in this DFID funded project are the National University of Lesotho and the University of Zambia and National Resources Development College in Zambia.
From Botswana the participating parties are Botswana College of Agriculture and Department of Agricultural Research.
Dr. Pharoah Mosupi, Acting Director of the Department of Agricultural Research, intimated into two components, namely the strengthening of institutional capacity on the one hand and the elevation of human capacity to conduct high quality research that will benefit people involved in Agriculture.
Mosupi, acknowledged that about nine of his officers have also reaped from the SCARDA initiative in a direct way.
Regarding the extent of contribution made by research on the success of agriculture in Botswana, the Acting Director stated, “we can only come up with innovative findings and marvelous modern state of the art technologies, but what or how they are utilised, I am sorry it’s outside my mandate.”