Developing a framework for cooperation and integration to enable holistic research

Scientists at the ESA regional planning meet. Photo: C Wangari, ICRISAT

Scientists at the ESA regional planning meet. Photo: C Wangari, ICRISAT

Development of a framework for cooperation and integration among different disciplines within ICRISAT to undertake holistic research for greater impacts, was a key focus of scientists from Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) region at their recent regional planning meeting. They reviewed achievements and lessons learnt from past activities as well as shared and peer reviewed each other’s work plans.

Some key issues identified were:

  • Need to align data management to ensure harmonization of what has been done through different breeding programs to avoid repetition.
  • Biotechnology should be integrated into all breeding programs.
  • Crop-livestock is an opportunity for integrating systems research and should be included in breeding programs and extended to more countries in the region.
  • More work on crop and climate modeling is needed on ICRISAT mandate crops, particularly calibration of relevant varieties to support/inform breeding programs.
  • Scientists from various disciplines presented their research initiatives ranging from crop Improvement (legume and nutri-cereals breeding and biotechnology); crop-livestock systems, including soil and water management; crop and climate modeling; and social sciences.

The team broke out into three groups – crop improvement; soil and water management; and scaling out and impact- sketched out an impact pathway and mapped different projects against the impact pathway.

The aim of the exercise was mainly to identify synergies and gaps in current activities. The identified gaps were then framed as research questions that could potentially be developed into project proposals. This process was facilitated by Dr Peter Carberry, Deputy Director General–Research, who mentioned that the ICRISAT West and Central Africa team had gone through the same exercise during their meeting earlier in the year. “This process will help identify a set of priorities that people think are critical to invest in, to fulfill our impact pathways and hopefully this can fit into the thinking around our country strategies,” he explained.

Impact pathway for crop improvement was identified as, priority setting, identifying the source of traits, pre-breeding, introgression of the traits into backgrounds – hybridization, selection, evaluation for the specific traits in the field and variety release.

The crop improvement team identified gaps and stressed the importance of collaboration across countries and crops, coordinate projects and activities better, to work more efficiently.

The soil and water management team defined their impact pathway as follows: Understanding the farming system (characterization), testing and demonstrating various technologies – based on identified constraints, engagement of partners and impact assessment. The main gap highlighted by the team was the need to develop synergies with other programs and focus on demand driven innovations.

The impact pathway for scaling out and impact was, research outputs/proven technologies, proof of concept, extension, piloting, scaling out and outcomes/system level objectives.

The key observation was that there is a need to plan strategically on how the ESA team can work more effectively on piloting and scaling out through partnerships.

To enhance the efficiency of research in the region it was argued that there is need to have:

  • Joint activities across various projects – for example, Tropical Legumes III (TL III), Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement (HOPE) in Sorghum and Millets Phase 2 and AfricaRising
  • Learning and collaboration across projects
  • Strong leadership to pull people together for integration in, proposal development, implementation and for learning
  • Sharing calls for proposals – to improve collaborations
  • Project management system with standardized frameworks for what projects should include and methodologies for the components, eg, data management, communications, gender, monitoring and evaluation, etc.
  • Draw expertise from across the region.

Dr Moses Siambi, ESA Regional Director, in his concluding remarks, stressed the importance of team work. “To strengthen our program we must work together,” he said, urging the crop improvement team to continue to identify areas to work with the genomics team. He also emphasized on the need to strengthen crop-livestock work in the region. “We need to be clear on what our contribution is and what our competencies are.” He called on the ESA team to involve the socio-economics team in proposal development. “If we don’t incorporate the social research questions into our proposals then we won’t benefit from their expertise”, he concluded.

The ESA regional planning meeting was held in Harare, Zimbabwe, on 26-27 April.

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