Thursday, October 10, 2013

Building critical mass in rice research in Africa

According to AfricaRice Deputy Director General Dr Marco Wopereis, there are four key elements to achieving impact from the research for development in Africa conducted under the CGIAR Research Program on Rice – known as the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP).  “First, we need to rebuild critical mass in rice research in Africa—this is what we do through our Africa-wide Rice Task Forces.”

This is crucial on a continent where specialist researchers are few and far between. For example, there may be just one rice agronomist in a particular country, with the risk that they become isolated and out of touch with what is going on elsewhere on the continent and beyond.

Attaining critical mass is not only a matter of pooling resources but also re-building human capacity through short training courses on specific topics, degree training, and training of trainers.

“In the Breeding Task Force, we found a disconnect between thesis research and the real problems that breeders should be addressing in their home countries,” says Rice Breeding Task Force Coordinator Dr Moussa Sié.

“I believe that a solution to this would be to offer sandwich courses in which the students spend as much time at their home institution tackling real-life concerns as they do at the university learning the principles and methods.”

This ties in with Dr Wopereis’s next point: “We need to ensure that these researchers are connected with the real rice world (avoiding ‘scientific islands’).” Consequently, Task Force activities are, as much as possible, integrated into and conducted in the Rice Sector Development Hubs in a value-chain context.

“Through our work in the hubs, we also concentrate our efforts in certain geographic areas while covering the whole rice value chain. And, last but not least, we need to communicate what we are doing to learn from our successes and failures,” Dr Wopereis says.

This requires working in well-defined partnerships with clear roles and responsibilities. The Africa-wide Rice Task Forces are aligned with the main thematic areas of GRiSP, and can therefore leverage knowledge from other continents and from within Africa. They also serve as on-the-job training grounds for young scientists.

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