| SPORE No. 40 - August 1992 |
The recent official recognition of CORAF (Conference des Responsables de la Recherche Agronomique Africains/Conference of African Agricultural Research Officers) as an association of national agricultural research systems is a major step towards making the structure and machinery of agricultural research in Africa truly African.
Members of CORAF, which was founded in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire in 1987 as an informal "club", met in Dakar, Senegal in March 1992 to setup a permanent constitution and to define future strategy. By creating a formal structure, the Conference sought international recognition for this regionally-based approach to agricultural research, functioning by means of networks and centres. CORAF's official status is the culmination of a steadily growing collaboration and consultation among African researchers and a progressive move towards Africanizing research systems
In its earlier days CORAF's administrative headquarters were in France. Three years after it was set up CORAF met in Madagascar and, although still an informal grouping, it was already on the way to becoming a pan-African organization. As he handed over to his successor, Nya Ngatchou of Cameroon, the outgoing president, Charles Razafindrakoto of Madagascar, proclaimed "CORAF is becoming truly African and a future for African research is opening up before us." At the same time the CORAF Head quarters moved from France to Dakar.
The three main French centres for agricultural research CIRAD (Centre de Cooperation International de Recherche Agronomique pour le Developpement), ORSTOM (lnstitut Francais de Recherche Scientifique pour le Developpement en Cooperation) and INRA (Institut National de Recherche Agronomiques) will continue to give scientific support to CORAF, but CORAF is sufficiently dynamic now to carry on unaided. Its main strength lies in the research networks of rice, cassava, cotton, groundnut, maize and the drought control campaign set up some five years ago.
Even before the Dakar meeting last March CORAF had earned itself a reputation for serious and effective work, a reputation which has persuaded international funding agencies to finance some of its regional research projects. Indeed, the originality of the CORAF system lies in its regional focus and structure. This arises from a recognition that countries with overstretched financial resources cannot address all the problems individually. CORAF, therefore, focusses on particular subjects each coordinated by one of its various bases through out the 21 member countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, the Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Gabon, the Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Togo and Zaire). Progress is being made towards opening the association to non-francophone countries. In addition to Nigeria and Sierra Leone who were represented at the Dakar meeting, researchers in other anglophone and lusophone countries are closely associated with CORAF's activities.
The politics of research
As an organization of "scientists sans frontieres" CORAF obviously must go beyond a mere sharing of knowledge and laboratories. With the support of the ACP Secretariat General, of CTA and of the French Ministry of Overseas Cooperation CORAF organized a meeting of African ministers with responsibility for agricultural research, in Dakar, recently. This incursion into the world of political decision-making was not only inevitable but also very greatly welcomed by the African members of CORAF.
This move into the politics of research was reinforced in Dakar by CORAF's decision to forge even closer links with National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS). CORAF's strategy revolves around three priorities: joint scientific projects carried out by networks and CORAF bases; training, exchange and mobility schemes for scientists in order to speed up the emergence of a pan-African scientific community; and a programme of scientific and technical information in order to better exploit the results of research.
CORAF's budget amounts to approximately 110 million French francs (£1.1m) over five years, of which only 5% will be spent on administration. The majority will be spend on scientific projects (65%), developing the networks (22%) and on the base-centres
Some significant advances can already be ascribed to CORAF, mainly thanks to its vigorous policy of information exchange and communication among scientists. National institutes have used the network to disseminate some interesting results, mainly in the field of varietal research. From these have emerged new groundnut varieties which are adapted to drought and disease-resistant maize and cassava, which are also in line with consumer taste and the limitations of peasants farming. Through CORAF activities a means of protecting cotton and a crop calendar, which helps Sahelian farmers make the optimum choice of variety and sowing times, have been developed.
The existing specialists subject network will probably soon be further reinforced by the addition of networks on: market gardening, pastoralism and forestry.