Jackson A. Kategile
International Development Research Centre
P.O. Box 62084, Nairobi, Kenya
Definition of network
Network potentials and common problems
History of ARNAB
Research networks are desirable and can greatly enhance research progress and the application of results. Networks can be viable when they are formed by scientists who have a mutual desire and mutual trust and are working on a common problem. Within network activities, scientists must gain something, e.g., skills, knowledge, literature, or access to research and analytical facilities. These gains help to sustain interest. Network members must also share responsibilities and therefore contribute to the network. Through complementary research programmes and the exchange of information, research progress can be greatly enhanced. A true network of national scientists avoids the risk, inherent in more centralized forms of regional programmes, of the domination of national programmes by an international agency or coordinator.
In this short paper, a few issues on organizational aspects of a network will be raised and reference will be made to ARNAB. As published literature on networks is very limited, the information contained in papers by Arnon (1968a) Plucknett and Smith (1984) and Toledo et al (1984) has been drawn upon. The review contains a definition of a network and research programme activities. A short account of the history of ARNAB has been included for the benefit of non-members.
To date, there is no specific definition of a research network. The word network implies a fabric with cross-linkages typified by a spider's web. Unlike a cobweb, there are no physical linkages in a research network and the linkages are flexible and voluntary. A description such as "cluster of scientists or institutions linked together by a common interest in working independently and inter-dependently on identified, shared, problems or potentials" is possible. The cluster of scientists may be within the same country or may be in different countries but they have certain problems or research programmes in common. In the case of ARNAB, a group of scientists based in different countries in various types of institutions are conducting research on crop residues and byproducts as livestock feeds.
The above definition suggests that scientists, problems and research programmes are the main components of a network. Furthermore, a network must respond to the reactions of the users of the results of the research programme. A schematic representation of a hypothetical network is given in Figure 1.
The components of a network deserve some discussion.
Networks are composed of people; in a research network these are scientists working in a specified discipline or in interrelated disciplines. The nature of research is such that specialists are people who can contribute ideas to research programmes as well as execute them. On the other hand, one has to bear in mind that as the ultimate goal is to transfer technology to agents of change (extension workers) and users (farmers), the membership may include anybody who has an interest in receiving newsletters. ARNAB membership is open to any researcher in Africa. However, because networks set themselves certain tasks, a prerequisite is that the scientists should feel a need to cooperate. The need to cooperate arises from one or more of the following:
* A desire to overcome isolation and a need for cooperation;
* A desire to learn from others working in the same area;
* A desire to have access to literature, computer facilities, germplasm, etc., which are available in large laboratories;
* A desire among young scientists to acquire specific skills;
* A desire to contribute to other research programmes, within the country and outside;
* A desire for a forum through which scientists can communicate with policy makers and make an impact on policies on development activities;
* A likelihood of getting financial support.
It is apparent that scientists need to see potential gains before forming or joining a network and during the operation of the network members must benefit if their interest is to be sustained.
Since it is not possible to examine all problems simultaneously, agricultural scientists must understand the agricultural industry, identify its problems and tackle the most limiting factors (problems) in order of priority. In the case of African livestock industries, the common problems are:
* The social and economic attitudes of farmers;
* The prevalence of disease: east coast fever, trypanosomiasis, blackleg, anthrax, foot-and-mouth;
* Inadequate feed supplies: seasonal availability of feeds and seasonal variation in feed quality;
* Poor marketing and distribution;
* Shortage of scientific and technical support;
* Inadequate mobilization of resources and sometimes misuse (e.g., overgrazing);
* External market restrictions: quarantine and political;
* Low genetic potential of livestock.
Figure 1. Schematic representation of network and how it functions.
The priority of these topics varies from country to country. The law of diminishing returns is cost effective; initially, relatively simple and empirical experimentation may give spectacular results. However, a stage is reached when further progress is dependent on a greater effort. One example of this is the improvement of milk production through crossbreeding and supplementary concentrate feeding.
Researchers identifying problems must accept the possibility of alternative solutions to the problems of the farming community and the needs of the country as a whole.
Typical national aspirations include:
* Self sufficiency in food supplies;
* Improvement of nutritional standards;
* Supply of raw materials for national industries;
* An ability to export crop/livestock products to earn foreign exchange for capital investment, sustain social services or sustain agricultural industry.
Scientists forming a network have to define the problem or potential which has been identified. In the ease of ARNAB, it was recognized that crop residues and agro-industrial byproducts contributed significantly to animal feed supplies. However, better exploitation of crop residues was limited by:
* Limited infrastructure for research/development;
* A scarcity of finance to support recurrent research expenses;
* Weak links between research and extension;
* Difficulty in forming multidisciplinary research teams.
With these problems in mind, two workshops (ILCA/AAASA, 1980 and ILCA/FAO, 1981) recommended that ILCA should undertake the responsibility of coordinating a network. In this role, ILCA would alleviate some of the above constraints by:
* Training technical staff and young scientists;
* Making literature available through tables of contents of journals, reprints, books and literature search;
* Reducing isolation through distribution of a newsletter;
* Making consultants, e.g., socio-economists, available to biology-biased teams.
Other activities of ILCA as a coordinating institution were spelt out in the project document. To achieve these effectively, ILCA has to work with ARNAB members and this cooperation is pivotal in ensuring shared responsibilities and a flow of information through newsletters, which are important to the success of a network. Workshops are also important for fast dissemination of research results and offer opportunities for reviewing research methods and programmes. Figure 2 is a hypothetical model of shared responsibilities in a network and shows the flow of information and feedback.
Figure 2. Shared responsibilities in a network and dynamism of network activities.
IDRC has financially supported many ARNAB activities in the form of capital items, recurrent expenses and workshops. It is hoped that IDRC's financial support has been catalytic in getting ARNAB moving towards its objectives, which are to:
* Enhance rapid dissemination of research results through newsletters and annual workshops. Scientific journals take from one to several-years to publish results;
* Provide forums for the exchange of information, experience, and feedback;
* Save time and funds by avoiding duplication and by running complementary national programmes, thereby greatly accelerating research progress;
* Make accessible facilities that are unavailable in national institutions;
* Enhance the development of research methods through testing and resolving methodological difficulties;
* Make it easier for scientists to extrapolate results through adoption of experimental and biometrical methods;
* Facilitate the exchange of potentially useful germplasm;
* Catalytically stimulate research activities;
* Offer training opportunities for scientists and technicians;
* Encourage small countries with limited capacities to participate in and benefit from broad-based research programmes;
* Provide a forum for influencing livestock production policies via the network;
* Provide a way for IDRC to develop contacts with national programmes and transfer promising technology.
While networks have the above benefits, they are also beset with basic problems. For example:
* There is the danger of domination by IARC, a funding agency or strong members of the network, resulting in a waning of interest by participating scientists;
* Networks may tend to isolate themselves from non-participants, and researchers not participating in a network may continue to be isolated;
* Networks formed without consultations with national scientists usually fail;
* National programmes may suffer if there are too many network programmes;
* Inflexible experimental designs encourage complaints;
* Some countries insist on government representation in networks;
* Changes in leadership are sometimes necessary but can be detrimental to networks because of the lack of continuity and the time needed to cultivate confidence;
* Many scientists may be unfamiliar with network activities and are slow to contribute to methods or to newsletters.
To avoid these risks, the prerequisite of perceived needs for cooperation must exist, or be cultivated, before the formation of a network; imposed networks should be avoided. Consultations must be held on the mode of operation of the network and the appointment of a coordinating agency. As networks are expected to promote participation, the coordinating institution should accept the responsibility as an equal partner. Built-in participation is important both technically and for the evaluation and review of the network.
Notwithstanding these difficulties, networks have produced proven benefits in many agricultural programmes, notably USDA research programmes, IRRI's rice programme and CIMMYT's cereal programme.
The beginnings of ARNAB can be traced back to the workshop organized by ILCA and the Association for the Advancement of Agricultural Sciences in Africa (AAASA) in Douala, Cameroon in 1980. Fifty-two African scientists attended the meeting and unanimously recommended that ILCA should initiate the formation of an African Research Network for Agricultural By-products, consisting of scientists involved in research on crop residues for feeding to livestock. The recommendation was implemented by ILCA in 1981 with the launching of a newsletter and visits to national institutions. In 1981 (21-25 September) FAO and ILCA jointly organized a workshop in Dakar, Senegal, on crop residues and agro-industrial byproducts in animal feeding. About 20 scientists from Africa attended the workshop and prepared initial recommendations for the ARNAB Network. Some of these showed clearly that African scientists have long been aware of the need for collaborative research programmes. Other workshops on the utilization of by-products within Africa were held in Tanzania in 1981, in Kenya in 1982 and in Egypt in 1983. In the 1981 and 1982 meetings the need for collaborative research was reemphasized with the stated goal of enhancing research progress and the application of results.
Based on their 1981 workshop, FAO and ILCA organized an Expert Consultation in 1984. The major objective was to develop guidelines for research on the utilization of crop residues and agro-industrial byproducts. The majority of the nucleus members of ARNAB attended this consultation and time was set aside for the ARNAB agenda. ILCA's proposal for funding by IDRC was discussed and the final project document was based on points raised by members. The current Alexandria meeting is essentially a follow-up of the one held last year.
In summary, ARNAB has evolved in the last 5 years and is mature enough to carry out collaborative research. This evolution has disclosed a few hitches but we shall try to resolve these in this workshop.
National research programmes are at different stages of development since a number of African scientists have been working in this area for more than a decade while others are just beginning.
We have probably reached a stage when we should evaluate ARNAB's organization and activities and plan for future activities.
Arnon I, 1968. Organization and administration of agricultural research. Elsevier, New York.
FAO, 1981. Crop residues and agro-industrial by-products in animal feeding. In: Proceedings of FAO/ILCA workshop held in Dakar, Senegal, 21-25 September 1982. FAO, Rome.
Plucknett D L and Smith N J H. 1984. Networking in International Agricultural Research. Science 225:989-993.
Toledo J M, Li-Pun H H and Pizzaro E A, 1984. The network approach in pasture research: tropical American experience. In: Proceedings of a workshop on pasture improvement in eastern and southern Africa. IDRC, Ottawa, Canada.