| SPORE No. 58 - August 1995 |
Daniel Assoumou Mba leaves the CTA
After 12 years as Director of CTA Daniel Assoumou Mba has now completed his assignment. From the outset he has led his institute with discretion and courtesy. During these years the tasks, personnel and budget of the Centre have expanded to create an institute capable of effectively fulfilling its mandate. Mr Assoumou undertook his duties with a rigorous commitment to development and clear-sighted policies. He always insisted that Spore, which he was responsible for naming, should be a publication oriented towards development information and not a publicity bulletin for CTA. Spore asked Daniel Assoumou Mba about his experiences and his vision for CTA.
Spore: You have led CTA since its creation in 1983. With hindsight, what do you see as the main phases in the Centre's development?
D Assoumou Mba: When CTA was established the mandate given to us by LomÃ© II was very broad: to improve access by ACP countries to information, research and training and also to agricultural development innovations. This was an enormous task! CTA's initial activities in 1983 began from a hotel room in Wageningen. There were only two staff members at the time: a driver-messenger and myself. Within one year eight people were recruited and a programme-budget for the subsequent year was drawn up.
Initially the Centre's activities were mainly focused on demonstrating the importance of scientific and technical information (STI) in relation to food security, income generation and natural resource conservation. In other words, that STI should be regarded as an input in agricultural production.
We gradually became aware of the constraints that ACP countries have to face in terms of information dissemination: lack of national or regional STI policies, difficulty in accessing information sources and a shortage of human and financial resources. At the same time, it was necessary to identify which groups of agricultural development workers should become our target groups: e.g. planners, researchers, trainers, extension workers and information managers.
Based on the requirements expressed by the ACP countries CTA launched its first information dissemination activities through studies, scientific and technical meetings, and publications on research and extension.
Spore: What strategies has CTA adopted to accomplish its objectives?
D Assoumou Mba: We have been able to establish and maintain close links with organizations involved in agricultural development in ACP countries at all levels: national, regional and international. CTA commissions experts from European Union and ACP countries to carry out specific tasks. The Centre has established regional offices in the Caribbean and the Pacific to improve its effectiveness in those regions. In Africa, we maintain close links with regional economic bodies and research-coordinating institutes.
CTA also works closely with ACP national research, training, extension, and information and documentation services.
The value of CTA's early work was recognized five years after its establishment. An evaluation of CTA's work during this period was very positive.
Spore: What are the Centre's current activities?
D Assoumou Mba: The Centre's activities focus on agriculture, including livestock, fishing and forestry; and the socio-economic aspects of any activity are always taken into account. CTA currently serves 70 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries which are divided into six regions.
Spore: How do you see the future beyond LomÃ© IV?
D Assoumou Mba: LomÃ© IV covers the period 1991-2000 and has broadened the Centre's mandate by emphasizing the need to develop capacity in ACP countries. The Convention aims to integrate information within agricultural development strategies and our role is to provide scientific and technical support in the preparation of information programmes.
According to the 1994 evaluation of CTA "the Centre has moved from a position of considerable uncertainy in 1984 to one of growing importance and tangible achievements. The Centre now has an identity and infrastructure, a sound programme and funding base, and a widely recognized contribution to the information needs of ACP countries...".
However, the Centre's role as a catalyst in formulating STI programmes can only bring about major changes if the Centre works to enable ACP countries to ultimately take over CTA's responsibilities and to meet their own agricultural information needs more adequately.
CTA's role remains relevant today. However, it will have to put special effort into defining and setting up regional programmes. This is the key to its future success.
Establishing research programmes in agricultural biotechnology has become difficult in view of the diminishing budgets available, for "national agricultural research. Which priorities should be addressed through biotechnologies? Which technologies are relevant and accessible, and what are their costs and impact? How certain is it that investments in advanced research will result in products beneficial to resource-poor farmers? How will issues relating to biosafety and intellectual property rights be handled by developing countries? Since biotechnological research usually requires high initial human and financial investments, and has predominantly longterm benefits, this situation calls for important decisions for governments to be made.
The Intermediary Biotechnology Service (IBS) organized a regional meeting from 2427 April 1995 in South Africa to stimulate policy discussion aimed at ensuring the integration of agricultural biotechnology with the broader national priorities. Representatives of 10 African countries attended this second regional policy seminar (a similar seminar was held September 1994 in Singapore for Southeast Asia). The sectors represented included agriculture, science and technology, industry and planning.
Most African countries do not have specific policies for setting priorities in biotechnological research, and R & D institutions are often free to adopt and apply biotechnology within the context of ongoing projects and programmes. It is generally assumed that biotechnology will result in economic benefits such as increasing productivity, reducing production costs or losses due to pests or diseases. However little evidence is available which would enable governments to assess the economic, social and environmental costs and benefits. Therefore many participants at the seminar made it clear that both technical and economic considerations are important ingredients of the biotechnology decision-making process. Limited budgets should not mean that socio-economic
analyses are forgotten, and it is essential that resources are used to develop methodological approaches to address socio-economic issues properly, not only at the project level, but also at the national and regional levels.
Closely related to the economic issues is the problem of involvement of the end-users of the technologies. The needs of all the players, be they farmers, food processors or consumers, should be considered carefully in designing a policy. The questions needed to be asked are: does the end-user want the product? What is the size of the market and what is the customer prepared to pay for the product? One of the ways of setting policy and research priorities for biotechnology is through discussions between all stake-holders, including farmers, researchers at the scientific and managerial levels, and policy makers at the national and regional levels. While this process might be more time-consuming compared with top-down priority setting, some people believe that it will be more sustainable.
Although farmers are able to give scientists feedback and suggestions as to research priorities, partnerships between farmers and the scientists are often underdeveloped. Farmers should be involved through representative organizations, rather than by consulting one single farmer. Strengthening research should go hand in hand with strengthening farmers' organizations. Besides being part of the prioritizing process, farmers should also be involved in the diffusion of existing and future technologies.
The main message from the seminar held in South Africa was that socio-economic analyses are important, but it should also be kept in mind that decisions based on the outcome of an analysis might differ between governments and companies. Governments may pursue specific social aims, which do not always result in direct net value to the economy or commercial development in the short-term. Additionally, researchers in agricultural biotechnology might be reluctant to cooperate with economists in the initial stage of a project. This can make the collaboration highly complex, though no less desirable.
The regional seminar undoubtedly had a positive function in bringing people together at a regional level to share experiences about the difficulties encountered in developing biotechnology policies, but it is difficult to assess the full impact of such meetings. The actual implementation of possible actions identified during the discussions may encounter several difficulties, so that the overall success of the meeting will depend on the ability of the country delegates to exercise influence through their organizations at the national level.
A report on the seminar, containing full papers and summaries of the discussions will be available by the end of 1995.
A more detailed article on this seminar, written by Gerda van Roozendaal, will appear shortly in the Biotechnology and development monitor.
Contact: John Komen, Intermediary Biotechnology Service, ISNAR, PO Box 93375, 2509 AJ The Hague, THE NETHERLANDS. Fax (31) 70 3819677 E-mail J.KOMEN@CNET.COM.
Small ruminant research and development in Africa proceedings of the Second Biennial Conference of the African Small Ruminant Research Network held in Arusha, Tanzania from 711 December, 1992. The 255 pages proceedings are edited by S Lebbie, B Rey and E Irungu and are available from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), PO Box 5689, Addis Ababa, ETHIOPIA or CTA.
Safeguarding the genetic basis of Africa's traditional crops is the proceedings of a CTA/IPGRI/KARI/UNEP Seminar held in Nairobi, Kenya from 5-9 October, 1992. The proceedings are available from the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI), Via delle Sette Chiese 142, 00145 Rome, ITALY or CTA.
Promotion de systÃ¨mes agricoles durables dans les pays d'Afrique soudano-sahÃ©lienne is the proceedings of a Regional Seminar organized by FAO and CIRAD held in Dakar, Senegal from 10-14 January, 1994. They are edited by Michel Benoit-Cattin and Juan-Carlos de Grandi and available in French only from CTA.
MÃ©tissages en santÃ© animale de Madagascar Ã Haiti is the proceedings of a Seminar held in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso from 15-22 April, 1993. The proceedings of 371 pages are edited by Kakule Kasonia and Michael Ansay and available in French only from CTA
CTA's 1994 Annual Report is now available. It includes a special paper by Mr Moise Mensah, the former Minister of Rural Development for Benin and also former Vice-President of The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). The paper is entitled Policy setting and institutional framework for rural development in Africa . It examines and comments on the common misconception that agricultural and rural development are synonomous.
Copies of the Annual Report are available on application to CTA.