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close this bookSustaining the Future: Economic, Social, and Environmental Change in Sub-Saharan Africa (UNU, 1996, 365 pages)
close this folderPart 4: Institutional issues
close this folderModes of international and regional research cooperation
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentThe global change programmes
View the documentNetworking
View the documentEnvironmental governance
View the documentOutlook
View the documentReferences

Networking

One thing in common between all the above and other similar efforts is that they are based on a networking principle. International networks of research and training institutions as well as individual scholars are set up in order to agree on a joint research agenda, to focus efforts, and to benefit from economies of scale. The networks also have the central function of capacity-building in developing countries.

To demonstrate this point, consider international cooperation in agricultural research. One of the questions is whether our present concepts of international and national resources research as related to African farmers are still capable of meeting the challenges of the more systemic approach that is now required.

Much of the research is based on cooperation between the centres within the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), national research bodies, and actors at the "grass-roots" level. The main function of international centres such as the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) or the International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA) and their related networks seems to be to provide technologies that in a second step could be adapted to national and local conditions. This strategy has been largely successful, and some national administrations have been able to adopt the right research topics at the user level.

In many national research systems, however, this does not work because of the lack of trained professional staff, limited funding, and other administrative and fiscal obstacles. It has also been difficult to introduce priority problems from the farmers' and resource users' level into the research agendas of the international bodies. Investigations have shown time and again that, particularly as regards the small traditional peasant farmer, there still exist great problems of acceptance (Hatch 1976; Chambers 1983; Jazairy et al. 1992). The technological application gap seems to be as wide as ever, and much of the extension work of past decades has not been very successful (Merrill-Sands 1986).

From the farmers' point of view, the world looks very different compared with an international expert's view. Innovations may be refused because too much risk is involved or because they do not fit within the socio-economic reality of the farmers' environment. Risk minimization is of central importance to smallholders, who by processes of trial and error have generally acquired long experience in resource management, which they will not easily give up for something unknown, however promising.

What is needed is an even stronger reorientation of at least some of the international research towards the level of smallholders' problems, including a better appraisal of their traditional knowledge. Several of the new initiatives, including UNU/INRA and PLEC, are designed with this in mind.

This approach, which has been accepted for some time, also calls for increased interdisciplinary cooperation, including social scientists. A number of new concepts have been tried out during the past 10-20 years. The work on farming systems research (Shaner et al. 1982), on on-farm research (Byerlee and Collinson 1980), on the "farmer-firstand-last" model (Chambers and Ghildyal 1985), and on on-farm clientoriented research (Merrill-Sands and McAllister 1989) may serve as examples.

A participatory approach will improve the probability that internationally advocated technological innovations will eventually be adopted at the local and national levels. It is to be hoped that UNU/ INRA can also make a substantial contribution here.

Another example of successful research networking for capacitybuilding in developing countries is the UNU-International Mountain Society programme on Mountain Ecology and Sustainable Development. The programme has been operational since 1978 and, in recognition of its contribution in the field, it was selected to prepare the UNCED mountain agenda (Stone 1992). One of the central objectives since its initiation has been institutional support to mountain and highlands research in developing countries. For example, the programme was instrumental in establishing the African Mountain Association, which is now a fairly self-sufficient network of mountain researchers from Africa. The mother programme continues to support the global as well as regional networking activities through the journal Mountain Research and Development and newsletters.