Research brokers and intermediaries in the Agriculture Sector

This was a really great session which took me well out of my comfort zone in terms of the subject area. Initially I felt a bit like a fish out of water but in the end I came away with a lot to think about in terms of the varied roles intermediaries play.

We heard about two interventions each seeking to capture, re-package and share information relevant to farmers and rural communities. James Nguo of the Arid Lands Information Network, Kenya and Mary Mbekani of the National Small Holder Farmers Association of Malawi described their work developing projects with a strong community focus using farmers associations and other social networks both to gather and disseminate practical knowledge and learning. Gracian Chimwaza, of ITOCA (based right here in Centurion) also touched on this very grassroots level engagement but also spoke of their work to improve research and policy processes through availability of information at an academic level by improving journal access among other things.

Much of the resulting discussion focussed on appropriate and ethical ways of engaging with local communities. The design of research and communication interventions must balance both donor an academic agendas with local needs and we heard how some are using their relationships with donors and others to further this agenda. Still it was felt that more can be done and that projects still fail because communities are not engaged from the outset and do not receive feedback on how their knowledge has been used.

Participants highlighted the need for flexibility in the design of projects, the need to engage with existing networks and structures (rather than imposing new ones) and the use of some participatory methodologies as useful tools. Of course being from IDS you get used to the work of Chambers, Gaventa etc be invoked at some point during any trip but the discussion also really brought home to me the value of work I heard about last week in Geneva from Martha Chinouya and Wangui wa Goro (hopefully arriving here tomorrow) in developing ethical (for want of a better term) approaches to capturing the range, diversity and depth of perspectives of those being researched. It was also good to hear how some institutes are beginning to develop incentive and reward systems to allow researchers the space to develop some of these types of approaches so often unsupported by the traditional academic research funding models.

I found myself back on more familiar territory as the discussion turned to how some of the horizontal approaches to sharing learning between agricultural communities could be applied to influencing policy processes. Timing interventions, the ability to respond when the policy environment demands it, and the use of the use of the right formats in reaching target audiences are much more the bread and butter of my daily life as an intermediary and re-assured me that, despite my earlier doubts, I was in the right place after all!

Alan Stanley, IDS

Presentations on:

Chair: Freida McCormack, id21 editor, IDS, UK

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