Farmers have long complained about the difficulty gaining access to the results of research, which were often confined for years to laboratory shelves.
The research would be completed but the results not be shared with the farmers, the very people who needed it.
The reasons for that are not known - perhaps a lack of funding to get the word out, perhaps a simple lack of communication.
As a result, the farmers did not benefit from the new information. But now the Dakar-based West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development, known as CORAF/WECARD, has decided to take action.
Harold Roy-Macauley is the programs director for the group, best known by its acronym in French and English, CORAF/WECARD.
He says they’ll get better results if they involve all concerned parties from the beginning of a research project to its application in the field.
“It’s a new way of doing things. Research is the generation of knowledge and if we want to apply it, then we have to work in a different way, to create what we call innovation platforms where we have different categories of stakeholders, including research scientists, producers, NGOs, extension workers, and private sector and consumer groups. All these people have to be in that platform to develop the project together. We have had very good results and we are now systematically using this method in all our projects”, said Roy-Macauley.
The integrated approach is the basis for three new regional research projects formally launched by the council in early November in Douala, Cameroon.
They include increasing the production of smallholder fish farming systems in Benin, Ivory Coast and Cameroon; re-fertilizing suburban farms using urban waste in Burkina Faso, Congo, Senegal and Togo; and optimizing cocoa productivity within agroforestry systems in Ghana, Ivory Coast and Cameroon.
Seventy participants from 22 national agricultural research institutions, partner universities, donors, farmers groups and NGOs came together in Douala for four days of brainstorming and fine-tuning the projects.
The executive director of CORAF/WECARD, Paco Sereme, is confident of their success.
He says judging from the quality of debate and the caliber of experts involved, he’s sure that the desired results will be achieved when the projects end in three years.
The projects were selected according to the needs of stakeholders, like farmers who want less expensive ways of boosting yields and agro-businesses that want improved farming methods.
They’re supported by council grants funded with US $ 1.75 million from Britain, Canada, the European Union and other donors.
Three projects are underway. There are more than 40, including some focusing on aquaculture, food crops, biotechnology and biosafety and natural resource management.
Edmond Hien of the University of Ouagadougou is the coordinator of a research project using urban waste, such as food scraps and residues from agro-processing industries, for adding additional fertilizer to farmland.
He says sub-Saharan African soils are generally poor and peasants cannot afford appropriate organic or mineral inputs to regularly fertilize them for optimal crop yields.
Farmers on the fringes of urban areas depend on waste for fertilizer - waste that may contain toxic substances. He says the project aims at extracting environmentally harmful, pathogenic and undesirable metallic elements from by-products used to fertilize the fields.
As part of plans to guarantee success, CORAF says if stakeholders are not satisfied, the funding - and the projects - will end.