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CTA - moving with the times

close this book The Courier - N°158 - July - August 1996 Dossier Communication and the media - Country report Cape Verde
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When the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) was inaugurated 11 years ago in Ede, Prince Claus of the Netherlands - whose interest in development issues is well-known - attestded as guest of honour. On 19 April, he returned to take part in the official opening of the CTA's new building in neigh bouring Wageningen in the Dutch province of Gelderland. The siting of the purpose built premises is significant. The town of Wageningen has long been an important European centre for agricultural research and the Dutch, of course, are renowned for their commitment to cooperation with developing countries.

The CTA may only have moved a short distance from its previous headquarters, but the Centre's 38-strong staff are also aware of the need to move with the times when it comes to fulfilling their role in the field of agricultural information. This point was particularly emphasised by CTA Director, Dr. R.D. Cooke in his presentation at the opening ceremony. Recalling the Centre's main tasks (see box) Dr Cooke spoke of the 'changing horizons and challenges' which they faced, and he focused on four specific aspects.

The first of these is the big change taking place in national agricultural systems, with the state withdrawing more and more in favour of the private sector and NGOs. This is being accompanied by a trend towards decentralisation with the result that the CTA has many more potential partners to cater for and work with.

Global liberalisation has also had an effect on the kind of information being sought by the CTA's 'customers'. In the past, demand was almost exclusively for scientific or technical information, notably aimed at increasing productivity. Dr Cooke reported that while this remained important, there was now an increasing interest in marketing and socio-economic aspects to facilitate decision-taking.

It came as no surprise to hear the Director highlight the challenge posed by new technologies such as electronic networking and digital storage. The key point here, he stressed, was to find ways of adapting these to ACP needs and realities. 'In the next century,' he argued, 'the haves and the heve-nots will be defined by their access to information.'

Finally, Dr Cooke referred to the growing significance of regional linkages. He indicated that the CTA was locking at ways in which it could help its partners to devise regional development programmes.

The declaration signalling the official opening of the building was made in the preceding presentation by E.F.C. Niehe who is Deputy DirectorGeneral for European Cooperation at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In his speech, Mr Niehe emphasised the relevance of the CTA, pointing out that while the world food situation had improved, 'we are now on the threshold of structural food insecurity'. He also spoke in more general terms about the future of ACP-EU cooperation and acknowledged that 'partnership, sovereignty and equality had been somewhat neglected' by donors. However, he suggested that these concepts were now 'coming back'.

From the ACP side, the Swaziland ambassador, CS. Mamba,who is co-President of the Committee of Ambassadors, took up the theme of food shortages in sub-Saharan Africa and identified some of the difficulties encountered by African producers, particularly in respect of new technologies and marketing. He also referred to the environmental challenges facing ACP countries, especially in the Caribbean and Pacific. He was keen, however, to stress that the picture was 'not entirely negative'. Thus, for example, new technologies and methods had had a positive impact on grain production in Zimbabwe, horticulture in Kenya, and cocoa and coffee in West Africa. Mr Mamba echoed Dr Cooke in stressing the advantages of regional markets, and concluded with a firm statement of support for continuing ACP-EU cooperation.

'History,' he said, 'will show that the Lomé Convention played a central role in the momentum of development.'

The final speaker was Steffen Smidt, Director-General for Development at the European Commission, who suggested that the CTA had played a pioneering role in developing a sectoral approach at a time when the focus of development cooperation tended to be on individual projects. 'The Centre', he said, 'has become a well-respected international institution in the field of agricultural information.' The Director General focused on the need for ACP countries to develop their own capacities and on the gap that exists 'between potential and reality', because of capacity limitations. The Centre, he believed, could 'help bridge this gap.' Mr Smidt also reiterated a point made earlier that the information flow should not just be in one direction. 'Information from South to North is vital,' he argued, to ensure better targeting of programmes in future.

After the speeches, guests had an opportunity to learn more about the CTA's work by speaking to the Centre's personnel and visiting a special exhibition illustrating the nature and purpose of the Centre's activities. _

Simon Homer About the CTA

The CIA's tasks are:

- to develop and provide services which improve access to information for agricultural and rural development ;

- to strengthen the Opacity of ACP countries to produce, acquire, exchange and utilise information in these areas.

Programmes are organised around three principal themes:

Strengthening information centres - designing strategies for improving agricultural information services; - promoting use of new information technologies; - providing training; - donating books.

Promoting contact and exchange of: experience among CTA's partners in rural development - seminars; - study visits.

Providing information on demand - publication s; - radio and audiovisual materials; - literature services for researchers; - Question and answer service.

(The address of the Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural cooperation can be found in the CTA section towards the end of the white pages in this issue.)