What are the barriers and opportunities for scientists and other knowledge holders to contribute to informing policy for more efficient, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable agri-food systems?
This is a question of priority and knowledge gap in governance. There are situations where even when the best ideas are presented and the government is not thinking in that direction, nothing will happen. There is the question of priority. Is the contribution of research findings to informing policy the priority of the government? Are the issues of efficient, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable agriculture systems the priority of government? Are there knowledgeable people enough to push the ideas (researching findings and the use) forward when decisions are being taken at the various levels in agriculture? A government that is looking at food shortages, how to have resilient agriculture, and ensure the supply chains are not broken even though there are inflationary trends and so on, would source research findings in informing policy. In developing countries, policy trust seems to be more important.
In Nigeria, the scientists and other knowledge holders and policy decision makers who generally think as politicians and civil servants, are not interfacing or collaborating as they should. The issue is to create linkages between the two groups for exchange of information. The various platforms that can be used for such linkages to bring the two groups together could be through a Think-tank, Research accessibility, Need -oriented research and Personal interaction between the two groups at various levels (Executive, Legislative, Political). A lot more fora must be created for them to be able to exchange ideas. The scientists (specialists and academicians) should not see their work as done once they publish their research findings. They must put more efforts to make it a point of duty to get the research findings across for the use of the community. One of the ways by which they can get this across, is to form think-tanks by which they will be available, for the politicians, to communicate their findings, and for the researchers to be focus specific. This will be more useful than the scientists are researching, publishing, and hoping that the politicians and civil servants who are the policy decision makers will find what they have published relevant or useful. This means specific investigation instead of just trying to pick out what has been published. In the areas of linkages, specificity, the language at times when scientists put out some of those findings, in publications, also need an expert to interpret them. The language ought to be simple and suggestive of where it could be useful, not just leaving it as a general scientific publication and hoping that anybody reading it would be able to make the work translatable. The best way is when the politicians can understand how to translate the findings into policy. Such that when they are elected, they already have a policy agenda. That is better than when they get into the office and are complete strangers to what is needed for policy decisions. One must go a step further, to each politician seeking office into the executive and legislative positions, to know there is a place they can tap ideas from which could be a Think-
Tank. There are some Think-tanks in Nigeria and most of them tend to be economic and political. There are few scientific ones, and that means essentially very few in agriculture. These must be created. The formation of Think-tank is very important for the success of incorporating research findings into policy. Once these are created, there must be provisions for funding them. It may be that some of the ideas must be paid for in the future. A policy maker who is not a professional or does not have the requisite understanding, can also deploy an appointee to help study the utility of research work/findings and be advised on the utility of the work to the political agenda.
Research Accessibility: The universities also must present themselves as the knowledge baskets of the country. At times, some lecturers carry out research to get articles into some journals without thinking of how relevant the findings are to the country, state, local government, or communities. That must be turned around so that the universities and research institutes or other institutions are made to focus on service and utility to the communities. This means more of adaptive research, purpose-led research, need-led research. However, the recipient or end-user of data sometimes must have an input into how the data is collected and generated. The scientist cannot continue to fund research themselves to generate data and government collect the data free of charge without adequate funding for research.
The universities must not be seen as institutions where the ordinary man only goes to seek admission for their children and wards to study for a degree. The wall must be broken down for a farmer to have easy access to researcher and for both to be able part of the policy process. Other issues include:
Education: It is a barrier if people you are trying to work with do not understand the reasons why the inclusion of research findings and knowledge holders in informing policy/policies.
Education and access: The scientists and knowledgeable people have insights that the policy decisions makers do not have and so should be involved in informing policy.
Economics: the contributions of scientists and knowledge holders (farmers downstream), to informing policies are important in understanding the intended and unintended effects of the policies. Culture: It is a barrier not to understand the culture of the communities for which policy decisions are being taken. Economics: Data is needed to calculate the financial implications of any policy at the planning, formulation, and implementation stage. How much to implement? How much will be gained?
Foluke O. Areola.
Ms. Foluke Areola