Recommendations for better use of foreign assistance to institutional development of NARS in sub-Saharan Africa are presented in this chapter. The recommendations are based on findings from the selected projects from the seven countries.
Since independence all governments have increasingly invested in agricultural research. Funding has come from own resources as well as from development partners. Production technologies provided by the public agricultural research institutions have sustained agricultural production and ensured food security despite a high rate of population growth.
National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) have been shown to have a positive impact on agricultural production. Agricultural research institutions remain, however, fragile and further institutional development is in no way ensured. A major objective of the study was to determine if donors took institutional development issues into consideration when assisting NARS or NARIs/NAROs.
Contribution of donors to agricultural research in sub-Saharan Africa will continue to be appreciated for many years to come. However, experience gained from the implementation of the 36 projects, allows one to make the following recommendations for more efficiency and effectiveness of donors' assistance.
Priorities set by government should be adhered to and not by-passed through supply-driven projects. Although there might be no single political notion of how to achieve scientific institutional building or strengthening, there is always a hidden agenda or vested interest of promoting one field of science and one type of technology rather than another.
Institutional development is a long-term process that needs decades rather than years to achieve its goal (Eicher, 1991). Donors must take heed of the long-term nature of institution building when decisions are made to participate in projects of this sort. Consistent donors hold the key to optimal utilization of development resources. Donors who change their approach every three years create confusion and havoc to institutional capacity building projects.
External assistance sometimes had negative impacts despite the intention of strengthening agricultural research. Some donors might encourage government to over-extend their commitment of infrastructure and operating funds with insufficient attention to long-term sustainability of the research system. World Bank, NARP projects fall partly into this category. Projects that provide new buildings, vehicles and opportunities for overseas training in order to achieve visible progress in four to five years do not take sustainability sufficiently into account. The repetition of this cycle often leads to a large magnificent set of buildings, limited scientific capacity and a bloated and fiscally unsustainable institution (Eicher, 1999).
Provision of expatriate experts and consultant services has also in some cases tended to reduce or delay the development of local skills and capacity (FAO/UNDP, 1984).
Assistance should not be experimentation
Donors should avoid using recipient countries/institutions as a testing ground for new ideas or models. Success cannot in any way be guaranteed for this type of experimentation.
Avoidance of donor influence on priority setting
Care must be taken to avoid excessive donor influence in setting priorities through proxy organizations in the pursuit of a demand-driven research agenda. If the priority setting process within NARS is truly demand-driven, the demand must be expressed by the clients themselves and negotiated between those clients and NARS based upon realistic appraisal of the resources available for agricultural research.
Support to major research programmes must be on a modest scale in order to secure that future recurrent costs can be covered locally. Donor support for national research programmes must be realistically tailored to the capacity of research institutions to cover recurrent costs. It is extremely de-motivating for researchers to have access to state-of-the-art equipment and infrastructure during the course of a donor project, only to see them deteriorate and become technologically obsolete almost as soon as the donor support ends.
The number of participants trained at various levels, buildings constructed and the number of saloon cars and 4WD vehicles provided, should not be a measure of project success. Success must be measured by research results delivered to the farmers and sustainability of the recipient institutions. The abrupt ending of assistance is often also detrimental to the sustainability of donor assisted activities. Small financial support in a transitional phase should be viewed as a valuable way to phase out projects. The agricultural research capacity in a country must not be regarded as a simple sum of well-trained researchers, adequate building and well-equipped laboratories. These are means and not ends (Murphy, 1983). The most successful assistance instances are when the project continues to run smoothly after project termination. In order to achieve a successful follow-up it is necessary to keep in mind that: (i) the types and levels of intervention should have a diminishing dimension as NARS/NARI will be expected to further improve in strength; and (ii) the supply of external interventions should be expected to be more structured and better targeted to specific needs. In other words, a phasing out mechanism should be built-in when designing the programme/project.
Long-term planning in NARS
Institutional development is a long-term process. Various national actors must therefore put their actions in a long-term perspective. Supplying continuity in national leadership and a clear vision for the needed institutional capacity-building process is obviously a target for governments. It must not be forgotten that institutional development is not an end in itself. Its purpose is to build capacity to effectively and efficiently execute high priority issues in relation to national policies and farmers' needs. NARS must also be shown to have the capacity to respond dynamically to a changing internal and external environment. Governments must therefore develop priority research programmes for NARS/NARIs based on a long-term strategic plan. The exercise becomes, however, meaningless if resources for their implementation are not assured.
All resources, national and foreign alike, should be geared towards the execution of priority programmes as set out in the national strategic plan. The creation of a consultative group for agricultural research among donors is a positive move to improving coordination and implementation of priority programmes. Such bodies could in the long run expand to become consolidated funding mechanisms (CMF). This suggestion was put forward by SPAAR within the Framework For Actions (FFAs) in 1990. Unfortunately, a recent evaluation of the implementation of the principles of the FFAs concluded that the least implemented principle was the sustainable financing that encompassed the CFM. Donors are still reluctant to move to programme financing and CFM and strongly attached to single projects. The use of an integrated sector approach to research where all research-operating costs are considered as a capital good development expenditure with long-term results, as opposed to short-term is often acceptable to research managers. Introduction of time-bound contractual arrangements for research funding, based on accountability for research relevance, requires moreover long-term commitment by donors and government.
Being responsible for financing
The responsibility for financing agricultural research by government and full ownership of NARS should be clearly stated at the onset and donor funding assured based on this government commitment. Progress towards financial self-sufficiency/sustainability is a sine qua non for institutional capacity building. Transparency and accountability should be the rule of thumb. In order to gain the confidence of all partners clear mechanisms of independent evaluation of NARS'/NARI's development is also necessary.
Decentralization of research is essential in order to bring about more relevance and responsiveness of research programmes. The needs of stakeholders must be taken into account. Stakeholders must also be able to participate in programme formulation and evaluation. Mechanisms must therefore be in place, which allow stakeholders to effectively have an impact on the priority setting, design, implementation and evaluation processes of the research institutions. All NARS have responded positively to this demand. Decentralization of activities closer to users should not result in investments in facilities beyond the capacity of the institution to operate and maintain these properly.
Incentives for researchers
Development of well-trained researchers takes times and is costly. Human resources development and institutional development projects must therefore be long-term. Training is however not enough. There must be an innovative and sustained effort to retain researchers through salary incentives and a proper working environment. Training of well-qualified scientists can easily become training for work abroad and in donor countries. Many NARS researchers have found high level positions in management throughout Africa and in international organizations. Donors, NGOs and private sector agencies frequently seek their expertise. Their skills and professional capabilities acquired through training organized by NARS are well appreciated by many donors and employers outside of NARS.
Internal and external linkages
The linkages within NARS have improved considerably. However, a major imbalance between research institutions, universities, farmers' organizations, NGOs and other stakeholders still exists. Academic institutions receive, for instance, little attention from government and from donors. This is unfortunate given their potential contribution to agricultural research. There have been innovative initiatives that can contribute to boost stakeholder involvement in formulation of applied research programmes (such as the Agricultural Research Fund in Kenya). Even if recognition of pluralistic NARS is a present trend one should avoid weakening NARI/NARO by creating new artificial structures. The pluralism of NARS is better obtained by involving all parties in national strategic planning exercises. There should be a subsequent allocation of tasks and resources based on comparative advantages of each party.
External linkages have also been enhanced particularly with IARCs and regional research organizations. Much attention is given today to regional research organization as a tool for strengthening NARS. Questions have been asked if proliferation of initiatives and agencies to coordinate funding and, in some instances, the conduct of African agricultural research really has had any substantive impact. Or on the contrary, if it merely has served to increase bureaucratic overheads (Roseboom, Pardey and Beintema, 1998). A lesson reported by SPAAR is that additional consideration needs to be given to the realities of collaborative regional research. There might be appreciation for the potential benefits of such activity, but the necessity of creating stable, well-funded and self-confident national systems remains as a first priority. The goal must also be to avoid the dissipation of scarce national capacity and funding. The regional research agenda needs therefore to be carefully identified and relative comparative advantages fully exploited.
Overall, the conclusion for the study is that the basis for institutional development is present in all countries. Albeit after experiencing various periods of expansion, contraction, restructuring and downsizing. Agricultural research management has been improved at all levels (policy formulation, planning, organizing, evaluation and controlling, etc.). Adequate bodies have been established, but proper functioning of these is more uncertain. Human resources have improved in quality and quantity. Most governments have also striven to improve incentive schemes as well as a better research environment. Staff attrition is, however, still high. Strategic planning, priority setting and programme budgeting and management are routinely performed in NARIs. A master planning process has had an important and significant effect on institutionalizing priority-setting mechanisms in NARS. It has also been helpful in aligning agricultural research with national development objectives. The process has had a marked value in capacity building for planning in NARS (SPAAR, 1995).
Despite the progress noted, NARIs remain fragile institutionally. Sustainable funding remains the Achilles' heel of NARIs and particularly of non-staff related costs. SPAAR came to the same conclusion in 1995 and stated that: "a universal and recurring problem is the shortage of operational funding. This persists despite the serious attempts by management to reduce staff levels and research sites to meet the requirements of the priorities and agenda."
After four decades of NARS development through expansion, restructuring and downsizing, the time has come for consolidation or decompression (Eicher, 2001). This cannot take place without sustainable funding. Sole reliance on donor funding is not a long-term solution. To diversify domestic sources of funding through resolute evaluation of all potential sources of funding mechanisms might be one option (FAO/SPAAR/KARI expert consultation, 1993). This requires however, African resolve, African political leadership and aggressive indigenous resource mobilization.