Pioneering partnership for science communications to boost food security and improved livelihoods in the drylands

ICRISAT-HOPE Project communication and scientific specialists met in Arusha, Tanzania to form a pioneering partnership to better communicate agricultural scientific advancements and impacts.

Pioneering partnership for science communications to boost food security and improved livelihoods in the drylands

A dynamic and new partnership to better communicate agricultural scientific advancements and impacts promises to build the capacity of national organizations to use communication tools and approaches in helping achieve food and nutrition security and improved livelihoods in the dryland tropics.

In a pioneering and unique initiative, communication and scientific specialists from nine countries and from different ICRISAT locations have come together in a week-long workshop held in Arusha, Tanzania, 25-28 November, to set up the communication partnership.

The HOPE Project (Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement of Sorghum and Millets in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia) has been selected as the initial platform for this “Partnering for Communications” initiative, with participants coming from Tanzania, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Uganda and Ghana; and from the ICRISAT headquarters in India and regional offices in Kenya and Mali. There is a plan to expand the partnership to other francophone HOPE project partner countries (Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger), as well as to other agricultural research-for-development programs led by ICRISAT.

While it has become a common practice for international and national organizations to form partnerships for scientific research, the importance of partnering for communications has not gained much attention until this time. Partnership is a powerful tool, especially in communicating for development, which has now become critical in achieving global development goals of food and nutrition security and poverty reduction.

(L-R) Dr G Okwach (HOPE Project Coordinator), Mr Z Ghebremichael (Eritrea), Mr Martin Mandho (Associate Professor, Murdoch University, Australia) and Ms J Kane-Potaka (Director of SMC, ICRISAT) during the video training session.

(L-R) Dr G Okwach (HOPE Project Coordinator), Mr Z Ghebremichael (Eritrea), Mr Martin Mandho (Associate Professor, Murdoch University, Australia) and Ms J Kane-Potaka (Director of SMC, ICRISAT) during the video training session. Photo: S Sridharan ICRISAT

“When we work in partnership for scientific research, capacity building of national scientists is a critical part and typically an essential requirement before an international donor agrees to any funding. It is really surprising that there isn’t the same support for building the capacity of the communications professionals in local and national organizations. Our vision for partnering for communications is to build the capacity of our national partners to effectively communicate science with more tools and better skills,” says Ms Joanna Kane-Potaka, Director of Strategic Marketing and Communication, ICRISAT.

According to Dr George Okwach, Project Coordinator, HOPE Project, “Partnering for scientific research is important for so many reasons – including better understanding of the local environment, more sharing of ideas and knowledge, a greater likelihood of successful solutions and adoption, and to build the capacity of others. This is just as important to achieve through partnering with the communications professionals as it is to partner with the scientists.”

“We need to show the value of partnering for science communication to scientific organizations, donors and scientists so that the communications professionals can be more formally included and integrated into scientific research projects,” stressed Dr William D. Dar, ICRISAT Director General, in a message of support to the pioneering initiative sent from the ICRISAT headquarters.

The four intensive days of “Partnering for Communications” workshop were devoted to sharing knowledge from across the regions, enhancing the participants’ communication skills and approaches such as capturing and writing stories and video production, and communication planning to better spread the word about the HOPE project and its scientific advancements and impacts. Participants also identified their respective national communication channels and strategies to be linked to, as well as to be tapped, in the implementation of the HOPE project communication plan.

Mr P Mcharo, District Agricultural, Irrigation and Cooperative Officer of Moshi District being interviewed by (from left) Dr B Beshir (Ethiopia), Mr Francis Kpodo (Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa), and Mr Mandho (Murdoch University).

Mr P Mcharo, District Agricultural, Irrigation and Cooperative Officer of Moshi District being interviewed by (from left) Dr B Beshir (Ethiopia), Mr Francis Kpodo (Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa), and Mr Mandho (Murdoch University). Photo: Photo: MN Makelo

“On behalf of the Director of Research and Development of Tanzania, I would like to thank ICRISAT for choosing our country to host this dialogue, and to be one of the implementing partners of the HOPE Project. I will use the knowledge that I gained from this activity to communicate scientific advancements to help achieve food and nutrition security in our rural communities,” says Dr Fridah Mgonja from the Selian Agricultural Research Institute, Tanzania.

“I found the training very useful for communicating research and development, and for the continuous success of the HOPE Project,” noted Dr Bediru Beshir from the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research.

“Sharing knowledge across regions helped us to appreciate both the differences as well as the many similarities in challenges that we all face,” says Mr Zeremariam Ghebremichael from the National Agricultural Research Institute, Eritrea.

Participants also visited farmers, the local government office and agri-business establishments in Moshi District, Kilimanjaro to learn more about their challenges and successes, and their involvement in the HOPE Project, particularly in the area of sorghum production. This was also part of the training on how to capture insights on video and through impact stories.

“The potential of sorghum as an alternative to maize is great in Moshi District in view of climate change. Through the HOPE project, farmers and extension officers were trained on sorghum production technology, as well as on how to utilize sorghum. The government has also passed a by-law that requires each farmer to put at least a quarter of their farm land under sorghum. We are targeting a total of 600 ha under sorghum in the district,” highlights Mr Paul Mcharo, District Agricultural, Irrigation and Cooperative Officer of Moshi District.

“Before, we were cultivating maize in more than 5 acres of land with very low yield and return. In the last cropping season, we planted 1 acre to sorghum, and not only can we see improved income, but better nutrition for my family as well,” says Mrs Zainab Ali, a 40-year-old woman farmer, and a mother of four.

Through the communication partnership, the HOPE Project envisions to enhance even more the benefits of research for development efforts to smallholder farmers in terms of improved livelihoods and nutrition security.