Advances In Knowledge Management & Outreach for Enhancing the Impact Of Research And Innovation in the COVID era. The FARADataInformS Example

According to the World Economic Forum (2015), Africa produces only 2.6% of global scientific knowledge with just 29 publications per million inhabitants compared to 1,013 and 609 for North America and Europe respectively. 64.6% of these publications are co-authored with researchers from other continents. The continent has just 79 scientists per million  inhabitants compared to countries like Brazil and United States where the ratio stands at 656 and 4,500, respectively (UNESCO Science Report – Towards 2030). Currently, Africa’s contribution to the global knowledge system is among the lowest in the world. This is mainly due to the low institutional and individual knowledge generation capacity on one hand, and the weak institutional capacity and infrastructure for collecting, storing and managing the data and information being generated on the other. Informed decision-making processes at all levels are weak due to low availability and accessibility of relevant and reliable data, information or knowledge.

FARA and her constituents (national and sub-regional) have emerged as credible knowledge institutions and have over the years generated relevant science, technology and innovation knowledge needed for the transformation of African agriculture. FARA knowledge products and systems cover areas of human capital, competences/skills, job opportunities, educational programmes, policy, Innovations systems and partnerships, rural farming and farming systems, continental initiatives, knowledge management and advocacy, among others.  In agreement with Young 2005, FARA’s knowledge systems outreach over the years has brought together people in millions (researchers, policy analysts, development practitioners, decision makers and other stakeholders), organizations (universities, National research Institutes including other government agencies, NGOs and Private [farmer) sector groups) and the knowledge that is accumulated and shared among them (results of research analysis, information on synthesis and trends, demand and supply of capacities and local knowledge and expertise).

The Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) is the apex organization for agricultural research for development in Africa. The completion of the implementation of various strategies over the past two decades, presaged the development of a new strategy in the year 2018 to consolidate the significant gains over the years. Lessons learnt and god practices from past interventions led to the establishment of a strong and effective information and knowledge management and outreach system that offers access to knowledge and decision support solutions for stakeholders in Africa especially on capacities, policies, practices, technologies and innovative funding instruments  as well as establishing appropriate frameworks and guidelines for integrating the Science Agenda (S3A) into CAADP and STISA 2024 processes and strategies. These are aimed at improving productivity, competitiveness and integration of the agricultural sector; Strengthened policy, technical and institutional capacities of national and regional stakeholders to design and implement programs of the science agenda; and build/strengthen innovation systems and partnerships among national and regional stakeholders as well as develop partners to facilitate multi-stakeholder engagement, dialogue and resource support for the implementation of the Science Agenda for Agriculture in Africa.

To effectively provide science, technology and innovation (STI) knowledge support to the CAADP country process and for the implementation of the Malabo Declaration for 2025, FARA and partners developed the FARADataInformS; a repository that repositions existing platforms as well as create the opportunity for introducing new data and pulling data from third party sources. It was also in response to demand by FARA constituents during the S3A regional and national consultations held in Rwanda, Malawi, Ghana and Senegal of over 40 countries in 2017, that FARA needs to continue to strengthen its knowledge management systems and infrastructure to help bridge the research and policy gap, provide foresight and to domesticate African data, information and knowledge to support decision making and advocacy at all levels.

FARADataInformS serves as a continental repository and observatory of relevant Science and Technology Indicators (STI) metrics with analytical features for agriculture at country level serving as the basic resource from which various information services and products are derived. FARADataInformS integrates existing databases in FARA and develops a continental strategy for data capture and analysis to populate and update the FARADataInformS within the African agricultural innovation system (AAIS).

For cost effective and sustainable data capture strategy, FARA has partnered with the National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) and other existing data collection institutions within the countries such as the statistical services and chambers of commerce. In addition, FARA is using its various networks and interns as sources of data collection from the countries.  FARA continues to build specific partnerships with other international and continental organizations operating similar data systems using their comparative advantages and subsidiary principle including SROs, AOSTI, PANAP, EC-DeSIRA, FAOSTATS, The World Bank data amongst others to continue to strengthen this agenda.

Tools Offered by FARADataInformS in the Mist of COVID-19

FARA is a thought leader in AR4D. Over the years, FARA has created important networks and led major continental discussions focused on solutions to the huge knowledge gap. These resulted in the development of major knowledge tools and the creation of relevant Communities of Practice (CoPs). These tools include the eCapacities, the Regional Agricultural Information and Learning System (eRAILS), the Innovation Platform Agribusiness Portal (IPAbP), the PAEPARD and the BiomassNet portals. FARA maintains a Library (Hardcopy & online) whereas all CoPs were established using the Dgroups. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, these have been leveraged by Africa AR4D partners to brainstorm on measures aimed at mitigating the effects of the pandemic on Africa Food Security.

The eCapacities is an online marketplace for the demand and supply of capacities in strategic human capital formation. The platform provides a real-time review of the levels of capacity and demand in each participating country and dynamically estimating the capacity gaps for use in priority setting and targeting of investments. e-Capacities connects training providers, workplaces and graduates, and allows them to interact with each other in contextualized and mutually beneficial ways. Currently being implemented in Kenya, Ghana, Zambia and Uganda as Tier 1 countries, the portal has registered over 100 training providers with hundreds of programmes posted, 80 workplaces and over 10,000 graduates and employees data captured. This is a platform provides critical opportunities and solutions, particularly in the mist of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The eRAILS online platform developed in 2009, facilitates the mobilization of relevant local solutions to agriculture particularly research outputs, local knowledge and experiences from African stakeholders for knowledge sharing. It is a dynamic, decentralized, robust and versatile system that provides equitable access to a web-based agricultural information to both individuals and institutions, to establish websites to facilitate active interaction among themselves and other interested users across Africa and beyond towards building a knowledge-based economy for Africa. Implemented in over 45 African countries, coordinated by the SROs and owned by NARES, eRAILS has so far provided access to about 1,231 accounts, 1,894 websites and over 7,164 webpages. The IFAD Rural Solution portal also provides similar opportunities.

The IPAbP is a web information repository which aggregates information for all the Innovation Platforms in Africa to foster linkages with other agricultural innovation organizations, donors and development partners; to facilitate access to information and solutions on platforms to enhance collaboration and develop big businesses. It offers different IP facilitators an opportunity to demonstrate their Innovations and other products to a wider audience. Its analytics component further provides development partners, policy makers and agriculture stakeholders an avenue to directly source data on availability and veracity of all Innovation Platforms on the continent. Over 430 IPs across Africa have registered and are sharing knowledge and good practices on the portal.

Whiles the PAEPARD platform facilitates multi-stakeholder partnerships between Africa and Europe in the field of agricultural research for development (ARD) using the User-Led Approach, it is the hub that provides access to all relevant funding opportunities and upcoming events for AR4D stakeholders in Africa. In the same vain, the BiomassNet provides an interactive network for practitioners, policy makers, scientists, and other experts interested in knowledge sharing and dissemination of information concerning biomass in Africa.

Dgroups is a professional open-space collaboration tool that offers users the opportunity to contribute to dialogue and decision-making for international development. Supported by the monthly Information Sharing and Technical Seminars, FARA’s Dgroup has over the years offered various stakeholders in AR4D an effective and efficient knowledge dissemination and collaboration mechanisms. The over 10 Dgroup Communities of Practice of FARA currently reaches out to more than 50,000 individuals/stakeholders from diverse agricultural interest backgrounds in all 55 African countries and to over 131 countries globally. In the mist of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dgroups remain the most important collaborative tool for the majority of AR4D actors in Africa. FARA has held more than 30 discussions addressing important interventions in policy, foresight, capacity development, innovation systems, knowledge and solutions, partnerships and relevant topics involving the AU, NEPAD/AUDA,, AFAAS, CCARDESA, CORAF, ASARECA and other key players within the Africa AR4D. You may also register HERE to be part of this  important assembly of AR4D actors.

FARA currently operates both hardcopy (over 5,000 books) and online libraries. Through its four publication mechanisms (FARA Research Report -FRR, FARA Dissemination Notes – FDNs, FARA Policy Briefs Series – FPBS and FARA Flagship Publication – AfARR), FARA continues to provide opportunities for African researchers to publish their knowledge products for wider outreach.

The development of the FARADataInformS marks the beginning of an important coordinated effort aimed at achieving greater integration, foresight and harmonization of Africa’s knowledge systems for AR4D and the S3A as demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic. FARADataInformS will continue to establish and sustain itself as the most credible and reliable portal, working closely with the NARS, SROs, AFAAS and other key partners, offering countries an added opportunity for greater collaboration, learning and sharing.  It will continue to build stronger partnerships and outreach with relevant stakeholders at the National level and other continental and sub-continental institutions.

By: Benjamin Abugri (Knowledge Management & Outreach Officer)

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