Information for rural development: the ACP states identify their priorities
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CTA. 1997. Information for rural development: the ACP states identify their priorities . Spore 67. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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As a direct consequence of political and economic liberalization, information and communication have become resources ofprimary importance within the economic sector and an essential element of any business enterprise. Policy makers have asimilar...
As a direct consequence of political and economic liberalization, information and communication have become resources of primary importance within the economic sector and an essential element of any business enterprise. Policy makers have a similar need for information in order to define more clearly the policies upon which the future of society will largely be determined. The flow of essential information grows increasingly more complex, responding to the needs of different regions and to changing needs over time. The identification of priority information themes for rural development - a topic to which CTA dedicated a major seminar last October in the Netherlands - is therefore a task which is arduous as well as necessary. Everyone is now aware of the overwhelming influence and impact of communication and information on the smooth running of business. Without information, business enterprises cease to exist. In a free economy, and therefore one in which there is competition, the very existence of an enterprise relies, among other things, upon the Initiative of its promoters (for example, producers or rural artisans) and upon their ability to adapt to market conditions. Dr Howard Elliott, Deputy Director of ISNAR, expressed an undeniable truth very succinctly when he said at the seminar, 'In a competitive market, there are only the quick and the dead.' Complex communication needs Roland Guis, representing the French Ministry of Cooperation, reminded seminar participants of another well-known fact relating to communication at the grassroots level: 'It is the last mile which is the hardest to cover.' However, international institutions of cooperation and support that are charged with improving access to useful information, such as CTA, are not expected to present themselves on the edge of the field nor are they expected to intervene at village level. This is clearly a local or national responsibility but, as Dr Rod Cooke, Director of CTA, pointed out, 'An analysis of the changing needs of ACP partners indicates that CTA should emphasize further its efforts directed at strengthening ACP capacities in information and communication management.' This is the second of CTA's two principal objectives. However, this 'last mile' falls directly within the field of competence and activity of a new group within society - farmer groups and other rural-based associations. At the beginning of the 1980s, it was mainly scientific and technical information (STI) that those responsible for rural development sought to transfer to farmers through extension services. However, according to Günter Dressrüsse, Director of Agriculture, Forestry & Emergency Aid of GTZ, 'All the systems which were designed to effect knowledge transfer by means of the trickle-down effect have proved to be inefficient and extremely expensive.' No longer considering STI to be the only and most important kind of useful information, the 70 participants at the October 1996 CTA seminar, of whom 50 were ACP nationals, met in order to elicit a response to the question, 'what are each region's priority information themes for agricultural and rural development?' Appropriate agricultural policies and capacity building There are some constraints that apply to most regions and are well-known for their damaging effect on agricultural development. As an introduction to the seminar's six regional working groups, Mr Baba Dioum, Coordinator of the Conference of Ministers of Agriculture of West and Central Africa, spoke bluntly. 'Agricultural development policies, based solely on intensification, have created a 'wait-and-see' attitude among producers. The lack of long-term vision has prevented the integration of producers' interests whereas these should be at the centre of the decision-making process. There is no mechanism for collaboration between all those concerned with agricultural development policies. Agricultural inputs are often inaccessible. Commercial policies are inappropriate. Agricultural support services, including information, are often inefficient.' In all, Mr Dioum listed fourteen constraints but, overriding all others, was 'the absence of appropriate national agricultural policies and strategies' which he considered to be the main obstacle to the development of the sector. A united resolve for common welfare Beyond these general and often very demanding constraints lay the open question of the identification of regional information priorities. In order to achiever to achieve tells identification a rigorous and uniform approach to the subject would be required. This was provided by the framework document of the seminar which had been compiled by Dr Guy Rocheteau, a CTA consultant. Dr Rocheteau proposed six broad thematic headings. These had been identified on the basis of an analysis of the views and sensitivities of the different partners of the North and the ACP countries. 'The situation analysis and the strategic orientations required to further rural development are, in the main, strikingly similar throughout the ACP countries and moreover, nothing stemming from the above contravenes concepts defended by others,' notes Dr Rocheteau. In his opinion, this consensus is much more than a cosmetic compromise between partners whose interests may not coincide. 'It reflects a united resolve to work for the common welfare.' Set back from the main picture: rural poverty and women While some partners, notably those based in Europe, considered the reduction of rural poverty to be of prime importance, this was a subject of lesser interest to ACP participants. The theme had even been intentionally excluded from the plenary session, without any adverse reaction from the assembly, because of the general feeling that the reduction of poverty is dependent upon the results of development. It is also worth noting that there was little interest given to the specific role of women in rural development. This topic appeared only under the main theme of 'mobilization of the civil society', a theme which also includes the need to strengthen farmer organizations. Another noticeable change was that, with the exception of the Working Group for Central Africa, the strengthening of research within national agricultural systems was no longer considered to be of primary importance. While this reaction is in accord with the currently accepted understanding that technical solutions alone are insufficient to ensure development, it was nevertheless remarkable coming from a group of people of whom more than half were senior scientists and representatives of national research and development services. Science, and scientific services were not, however, ignored since they appeared under priority information themes, notably those of the West Africa Working Group. For example, presenting research results in an accessible manner was considered of high priority as was training scientists in scientific editing and communication. Considered to be of lesser priority was an inventory of research programmes and human resources capacity. Sustainable management: technical and policy expectations Dismissed rather quickly by some participants as of academic interest only, discussion of environmental issues led to the identification of several sub-themes of information priorities. Appropriate technology for the management of natural resources, in particular water, would be widely welcomed, as would information on production systems which make optimal use of this resource. Whether concerned with the policies and procedures of land tenure, which is known to affect the performance of producers, or with the development of fisheries, forestry or ecotourism (especially in the Caribbean), there was general interest in sustainable management of natural resources. The Central African Working Group made desertification control one of its two specific priorities. Similar concerns were held by the Pacific group whose region is experiencing considerable loss of soil fertility, particularly on atoll islands. Of equal concern to the Pacific group was the current lack of awareness of farmer knowledge. Turning to the market place Improving opportunities for access to markets was in general considered to be of the highest priority by the working groups which listed, under this heading, many information needs, as much for producers as for decision makers. One major area of interest was technical expertise, the mastery of which is essential if market opportunities are to be exploited. It was felt that there was still a lack of information available to producers about post-harvest treatments, storage, reducing post-harvest losses, processing and the development of agro-industries of an appropriate scale. The African Working Groups emphasized weak infrastructure, particularly roads and storage facilities and, for the francophone regions, the ineffectiveness of national markets for agricultural inputs and the need for better communication between professionals and policy makers. More directly linked to commercial activities, other sub-themes underlined the needs of commercial operators for information about markets, marketing techniques, credit, market regulations and knowledge of product standards, particularly those relating to export markets. A better understanding of the factors governing competition within the production chain is necessary, not only for producers but also for policy makers who lay down regulations of many kinds - customs duties or health standards, for example. These may have a greater effect on the competitiveness of a product than actual production costs. It was for this reason that unfair competition was identified as a constraint by the Southern Africa group. The Southern Africa group identified specific information priorities with reference to commercial management, to technology and, above all, to strengthening capacity building with regard to production, processing and management of information. The East Africa group, however, clearly expressed nearly all of its priority themes by information needs based on actual situations and experiences, both successes and failures. It is to profitable markets that enterprise and development must be directed - an idea that has been gaining ground everywhere over 15 years of structural adjustment. The information priorities identified, such as knowledge about markets, conditions of access, standards and regulations, and commercial management, are all linked to the need to conquer markets. Improving production and national agricultural systems As a consequence of the resolve to gain access to national, regional and even international markets, an important information theme is that associated with improving production. Priority information themes range from those relating to the transfer of technologies used at the heart of the major agroecological zones of the ACP countries together with local knowledge and the appropriate use of biotechnology and genetic resources. A wide range of subthemes clearly conveyed sensitivity to the question of sustainability: integrated pest management; integrated crop-livestockforestry production systems; optimal use of energy; equipment; water and soil and the use of chemical inputs. There is no doubt that priority information themes to strengthen national agricultural systems have the most direct link with policy making. So 'the supply of information to planners and decision makers IS deemed necessary in order to encourage the creation of appropriate policies. Improving communication between private sector associations and the State sector calls for special efforts as does the communication between farmers, extension and research. It is here, too, that capacity building in communication skills, links with the media, and the management of information and documentation are considered to be determining factors. Information for development is such a vast area and one which changes so rapidly that it is impossible to make a definitive list of priorities. The working groups therefore identified updating mechanisms and for the most part these will be the Committees for Regional Agricultural Information Programmes and Strategies (CRAIPS). A universal, if slightly abstract, theme discussed at the seminar was the mobilization of the civil society. This was only touched on in terms of specific information themes which related principally to the strengthening of farmer organizations, NGOs and rural women's associations. However, the theme was nevertheless apparent throughout all the other themes discussed. The main point of the information priorities identified was to increase competence and the enterprise capacity of those involved in rural development and to help them adapt to market opportunities
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