Tuesday, 28 April 2009

SCARDA: Regional Programme Wide Strategies and Learning, PSL, Workshop

Accra 25-30 April 2009. The SCARDA: Regional Programme Wide Strategies and Learning PSL workshop was organized in two broad parts: (a) the Expert group consultations and harmonisation of program-wide strategies ; (b) the Learning workshop

Step 1 involved meetings by 4 expert groups, namely:
  • Monitoring and Evaluation
  • Communications
  • Gender & Mentoring
  • Change Management

Step 2 were meetings titled “Engagement of SCARDA Implementing Entities,” (ESIE) namely:

  • The sub-regional organizations, SROs
  • The Lead Service Providers, LSP
  • The Focal Institutions, FIs
  • Lesson learning at sub-regional level.

Step 3 included the plenary sessions to receive reports of the expert groups, and, harmonize SCARDA programme –wide strategies and action plans for implementation of SCARDA in the future.

Kenya launch of Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development report

Nairobi, February 20, 2009: Immediate measures have to be taken to safeguard Africa’s growing population from the ravages of the food crisis, a report launched on 20/04 by the International Assessment on Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) says. The report’s launch comes as a culmination of a three year assessment on agricultural knowledge and practices across five key sub-global regions, and provides a roadmap towards a more sustainable and equitable future.

Speaking at panel session on agriculture and food security at the ongoing UNEP Global Council in Nairobi, IAASTD Director Robert Watson emphasized the need for governments to take a proactive lead in addressing food security concerns. “If we persist with business as usual, the world’s people will not be fed adequately over the next 50 years. Business as usual will result in further degradation of the environment and further widening of the gap between those who have and those who don’t”, he said.

The event was organized by the US-based non-profit organization, Island Press, publisher of the IAASTD Reports, and a trusted source for environmental information and solutions. Commenting on the launch, Chuck Savitt, President and co-founder of Island Press said, “This discussion today is a reflection of our commitment to make a positive difference by contributing fresh insights towards addressing the pressing environmental problems of the day. As in other parts of the world, we strive to create and support communities of teachers, scientists, policymakers, communicators, and citizen activists in Africa who are passionate about the natural world and are empowered by access to innovative ideas to protect it."

The IAASTD Report consists of seven volumes including five sub-global assessments: Central and West Asia and North Africa (CWANA), East and South Asia and the Pacific (ESAP), Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), North America and Europe (NAE) and Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA); each of these sub-global assessments address the unique challenges in each region.

[The report will be launched in Accra on 29/05]

International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development
Summary for Decision Makers of the Central and West Asia and North Africa (CWANA) Report
This summary was approved in detail by CWANA governments attending the IAASTD
Intergovernmental Plenary in Johannesburg, South Africa (7-11 April 2008). Copyright © 2009 IAASTD.

Provide smallholder farmers in Africa access to geospatial data, services, tools, and methodologies

Recognizing the importance of geospatial information to agriculture decision making and the inadequate access to data, tools, and analyses, especially in Africa, a Geospatial Technology Program was initiated. The Geospatial Technology Program is under the administrative oversight of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). CGIAR, in partnership with CH2M HILL and ITC, will design and develop a comprehensive program to provide smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and other agricultural stakeholders with access to geospatial data, services, tools, and methodologies to help them make more informed decisions.
Farmers will have access to higher-quality, location-specific information to make better decisions. They can use this information to decide which crops to raise and when to harvest; receive pest and disease information via cell phone; and apply changing technologies to boost productivity. They will also be able to help other farmers by reporting pest and disease conditions. Developing countries will benefit from collection and dissemination of agricultural data; analysis and communication of geospatial information; and monitoring and evaluation of agricultural development efforts.


WhereCamp Africa, ILRI Nairobi 04/04/09, was the first gathering of its kind to take place in Africa. WhereCamp is the free unconference for geographers, mobile location experts and social cartographers and all kinds of folks interested in place.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Launch of the North African Sub Regional Organisation (NASRO)

19th April 2009. Cairo, Egypt. The new North African Sub Regional Organisation (NASRO) was launched with the following three functions:
  • better networking and integration among North African countries leading to improvement in knowledge sharing and lessons learnt;
  • providing timely information to policy makers and,
  • better representation of NASRO within the regional fora, FARA.

Current members of NASRO are: Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Tunisia and Sudan. Egypt and Libya vied to host the NASRO Secretariat. Libya was chosen unanimously. Below are the newly elected officers of NASRO.

  1. Chairperson: Prof. Ayman A. Hadid President, ARC of Egypt with two year term
  2. Vice Chairperson: Prof. Habib Amamou Director General IRESA, Tunisia
  3. Interim Executive Secretary: Prof. Azhari Hamada, Director General, ARC of Sudan

The Chairperson has 2-year term while the Executive Secretary will be in office for one year as an interim. Dr. Hamada is tasked to setup the Secretariat by recruiting the require staff and preparing the governance and policy documents to operate the Secretariat.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

How important is internet visibility of African agricultural research outputs?

Interview with Harry Heemskerk, Head of Information Projects and Products at the Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam (The Netherlands).

Agricultural research outputs need to be shared and made visible in order to increase the visibility of African agricultural research institutes, the visibility of individual researchers and the visibility of concepts and research outputs.
The digitalisation and digital repositories are important:

a) for the preservation of the content,
b) for the preservation of the URL-links to the publications,
c) to store publications in one place but with visibility in many other places.

Therefore open decentralised standards are needed like the Open Archives Initiatives Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH). In African research institutes this expertise in more and more available and some additional training is needed on copy right issues. Policy/Decision makers need to be involved to create awareness about open access.

The Royal Tropical Institute organised with the Association of African Universities (AAU) and with the Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Ghana (CARLIGH) a workshop in Accra in March 2009 about experiences with digital repositories for Chief librarians and for vice chancellors.
Harry Heemskerk answers the question on what convinces key decision makers and which resources are needed.


D-groups partnership meeting 2009

On 15 and 16 April, the members of the D-groups partnership met in the Netherlands. The group last met in The Hague in January 2007. The meeting was organised by Euforic in its overall coordination role for the partnership. The members of the Dgroups Partnership elected a new Board to guide the Partnership in the coming years. The organizations elected were: Helvetas, Hivos, ICCO, IICD, Sula Batsu.

The meeting discussed:

  • the new D-groups platform, its usability, hosting, and support provisions
  • priorities for further platform development and enhancements
  • election to the Foundation Board, discharging the current executive committee
  • strategic directions for the coming years' management


New Helvetas Board member Riff Fullan reflects on the discussions:

For Riff Fullan from Helvetas, in spite of the limited amount of time availbale, the partnership meeting managed to get a lot done. The board has now some "concrete avenues to follow" and there's a lot of work to be done, but overall the feeling about this AGM is very positive.

Sarah Kerr has been involved with Dgroups from its early days. She sees Dgroups as a 'teenager', with the discussion focusing now more on the partnership than on the platform. She also highlights the importance of keeping alive the original ideas behind Dgroups, while letting them evolve at the same time. For Sarah, this is happening, and we see now things solidifing and going in the right direction, with the establishment of the Foundation and the election of the Board.

For Christian Kreutz, IICD, it's important that Dgroups partners focus their discussion also on dgroups as a community of experts on development issues. There's huge potential to exploit this element and bring people together to share their knowledge.

Patrick Kalas for the SDC (Swiss Development Cooperation) highlights the difference between Dgroups as a platform and as a partnership. While there's more agreement on the first, the discussion on the partnership needs to be deepened in terms of it's vision and objectives.

What are some of the things that Dgroups users expect to see in coming weeks and months?

  • more usability improvements on the platform;
  • a public directory of groups on the new platform
  • extension of Dgroups help and FAQ resources
  • plans for two Dgroups training and outreach workshops sponsored by ICCO


The use of D-groups at FAO

Interview with Kristin Koshus, main D-group administrator at FAO Rome. Kristin has been working for 9 years with FAO and is since one year and a half the D-groups administrator. FAO has about 74 active online groups: as well small groups inside FAO linked to specific events of discussions and bigger groups with partners ouside FAO.

  • Large D-groups will often have a few active participants who communicate with a larger group. Smaller groups are much more focused with an active participation: they are time-limited and people know one another.
  • E-mail functionality, low bandwith and the fact that D-groups are relatively inexpensive are key for the use of D-groups.
  • The migration to the new platform caused a lot of frustration but his is now compensated by a much more performant platform. the new platform allows for better management of the contributions and for user analysis: who participates, from which countries, etc.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Using SMS for climate adaptation activism

Interview with Frontline SMS on using SMS for climate adaptation activism during the Digital World Forum (Maputo 1 - 2/04) "Africa Perspective of Mobile Technologies in fostering social and economic development".

The technology behind fronline SMS is briefly explained. Frontline SMS can be used for social activism in the field of climate change and adaptation. Especially for targeting the youth. 

A number of agricultural project have used it as agricultural market systems, market information and request advice to agricultural experts (Phlippines, El Salvador, etc).

Connecting farmer radios to mobile phones

Interview with Bartholomew Fisher Sulivan of Farmer Radio International (Ottowa Canada) at the Digital World Forum "Africa Perspective on the role of Mobile Technologies in fostering social and economic development" Maputo - Mozambique 1 - 2 April 2009.

Bartholomew explains how Farmer Radio International was approach 2 years ago by the Gates Foundation with the question if the effectiveness of radio for African farmers had been researched.

As this what not the case Farmer Radio conducted research with 25 different radios in 5 countries: Ghana, Mali, Malawi, Uganda and Tanzania.

The second phase will study and implement tools that allow for farmer feedback to the broadcasters through the use of mobile phone and mp3 players (listen on demand).

The approach adopted by Freedom Fone Interactive Voice Recording (IVR) (Zimbabwe) which was presented at the W3C conference on 01/04 would allow to listen to more detailed programs whereby the farmer could also leave his/her questions in an audio file.

The use of mobiles for massive agricultural data collection

Interview with Ian Puttergill Business Development Manager of Unlimited Potential Group of Microsoft South Africa. Ian clarifies the conditions for massive agricultural data collection using the mobile phone.

Using mobile technology for data collection and transmission depends on which source you are collecting from: is the source tusted? A lot of systems are only as good as the information that comes in. It also depends on the level of accuracy which the information needs to have. If the level of accuracy needed is within 10% points of the intended results mobile phone have their place. If you want accuracy within 1 % that those who enter the information are highly schooled and know how to do it. Whatever system that is used to capture information needs to discard non relevant information (a filter for garbage) and a feedback system to tell that the information is invalid. From a database end massive data collection has to be a scalable solution but internet connectivity is here a major constraint.

Microsoft has researched some sound business models for m-agriculture (Mobile-agriculture). It first depends on the social relevancy of the application and how the mobile network operators will react to this. Follows then the business model which can be a donor funded model, commercial models (pay for subscription service), nominal cost and non-profit models, and advertising models. Advertising models are interesting because it can drive revenues shared to mobile operators, to the other partners: content providers and service providers.
The final objective is to find models that are sustainable in the long term.

NOKIA about creating a mobile agricultural service

Sean Paavo Krepp, Head of Emerging Market Services of NOKIA South Africa explains the essential pillars for creating mobile agricultural services:

  1. Content that is relevant
  2. Content that is timely
  3. Content that is a very high quality

It is therefore important to collaborate with all the actors in the sector of agricultural information provision/services for farmers. The two other key words are CUSTOMISATION and LOCALISATION.

Africa Perspective on the Role of Mobile Technologies in Fostering Social Development

Sean Paavo of Nokia presents the the Nokia Life Tools for agriculture

Maputo 1-2 April. FARA participated at the W3C workshop in Maputo: Africa Perspective on the Role of Mobile Technologies in Fostering Social Development.

The workshop attended by 100 participants was organised by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), particularly the Mobile Web Initiative, and its Mobile Web for Social Development Interest Group. As the organisers put it:

"There are today more than half of the population living with less than 3$ a day, and lacking all kind of services (health, education, government...). The incredible growth of the mobile penetration rate last few years is providing a new hope. The potential of simple ICT services on mobiles to improve people's income has indeed been largely demonstrated. The aim of this workshop is to explore how to leverage these success stories and create an enabling environment that would drive the appearance of numerous services all over the Developing World."

The following topics were of particular interest:
  • Analysis of use-cases / real-world projects on use of mobile phones in development projects, use of the Web in development projects, deployment of public services using mobile devices in developing countries.
  • Strengths and weaknesses of SMS technology vs mobile Web vs voice technology
  • Regional differences in Asia/Africa/Central Europe/Middle East/South America/etc.
  • Challenges of integrating ICTs in rural communities
  • Usability and Human-Computer Interfaces (HCI) challenges of mobile browser and mobile content for population without technological background and prior computer experience
  • Challenges and potential solutions against illiteracy
  • Usage of mobile technologies in emergency responses in rural areas
  • Analysis on the way the mobile phones and/or the Web could improve people's lives in Developing Countries (education, healthcare, etc.)
  • Role of voice and multimodal technologies/applications
  • Challenges of developing and deploying numerous ICT services to rural communities
  • Comparison between different potential platforms to support ICT's deployment (mobile phones, low-cost laptop, telecenters, and so on)
  • Opportunity and challenges of ICTs in social/human development
  • Challenges of sustainability, scalability and replicability
  • Challenges and opportunity of integrating mobile phones in specific domains: eGovernment projects (mGovernment), e-health projects, disaster management,....
Fara presented its paper on Innovative Farmer Advisory Services using ICT on 02/04.

Have a look at the workshop agenda for links to other papers which may be of interest.

First European-African forum on ICT research

For the first time in Europe, sub-Saharan African and European policy-makers were brought together with ICT research organisations to address the development of collaborative projects.

This 2-day event (Brussels March 25-26) was organised by the European Commission (DG INFSO) with the support of the African Union Commission and the EU-FP7 EuroAfrica-ICT project.

This event was a unique opportunity for event attendees to:
  • Network with key stakeholders in the field (private and public)
  • Identify potential cooperation partners
  • Learn more about the “EU-AU Partnership on Science, ICT and Space” (the 8th Partnership) and the EC/AUC Programmes
  • Hear about opportunities to enhance African participation in FP7
  • Learn more about successful EU-African FP7 cooperation projects and EU-African PPP (Public-Private Partnerships)


ITNews Africa 24/03 European, African forum on research cooperation starts this week

Food Security, Environmental Sustainability, and Human Health Forum

The Kansas State University African Studies Center hosted the “African Issues Symposium: Food Security, Environmental Sustainability & Human Health” on March 30 – April 1, 2009. This symposium brougth together prominent international experts on Africa and leaders in the natural and social sciences to address these key issues. In addition, the gathering of scholars from U.S. and international institutions provided a valuable forum for dialogue, for identifying and clarifying key issues and problems, for summarizing and synthesizing current knowledge, and proposing a plan for the future.

The symposium included a series of special invited keynote speakers, contributed oral and poster presentations, and a closing series of panel discussions for summary and synthesis. A published volume of the proceedings of the symposium will be produced.


4th CAADP Partnership Platform Meeting

Hosted by NEPAD Secretariat, the Fourth CAADP Partnership Platform ( CAADP PP) Meeting was convened in Pretoria, South Africa on the 26th and 27th March 2009.

The CAADP PP is a senior level mechanism instituted to facilitate a common understanding on the progress of, and challenges facing, CAADP and to advise on CAADP implementation priorities. The CAADP PP has evolved into a key instrument for peer interaction and sharing among key African Union institutions (including the African Union Commission, NEPAD Secretariat and Regional Economic Communities), continental and regional farmers’ organisations, leading African academic and research institutions, African private sector representatives and CSO representatives with direct stake in the promotion of agriculture in Africa and development partners.

The Meeting was officiated by South Africa’s Minister of Agriculture and Land Affairs, Hon. Lulama Xingwana, and had a record turn out of 210 participants on the first day. The meeting reviewed and discussed the following issues;
· Progress and status in CAADP implementation and support focusing on identifying key lessons and defining strategies and critical measures to be taken to accelerate implementation at country level.
· Operationalisation of the CAADP Multi-Donor Trust Fund (MDTF).
· Progress on the implementation of some CAADP “early actions”.
· Preparations being made for the upcoming African Ministers of Land and Agriculture Conference and the AU Heads of State and Government Summit.
· CAADP links to global deliberations on agriculture, food and nutrition security
· Preliminary outcomes of the CAADP review.

Rural Development Donor Platform 03/04 The IVth CAADP Partnership Platform Meeting Concluded
African Press Organisation 27/03 South Africa / African leaders, Development Partners and Civil Society Renew Commitment to Agriculture at the 4th CAADP PP