Mateete Bekunda joined Africa RISING in April this year as the Farming Systems Agronomist for the East and Southern Africa region. He kindly accepted to share his views about the recent review and planning meeting which closed on 5 October. A lot of work – and learning – remains, but the path is clearer.

Mateete Bekunda, chief scientist (Credit: ILRI / Ewen Le Borgne)

What was achieved with this workshop? What are you happy about and what are you not so happy about?
Expecting to have work plans developed in this workshop was perhaps too far-fetched. We have however achieved the direction of where we should be heading and it is now easier to develop terms of reference for research teams to develop their work plans. It has also been good to see all partners working together with us. People liked the field trip and the district officers did a good job with the arrangement.
It was also very pleasant to see senior people from my own organization (IITA) come to the workshop and be very active; it’s quite encouraging. It shows how IITA moves as a team.
On the other hand, we did not manage to finalize the formation of research teams. Some people were telling me that some workshop outputs were rather similar to was what was agreed upon in Dar-es-Salaam. When you have new people coming in you have to engage them al.  But it also shows that we have not lost direction; we are adding value to the original ideals of Africa RISING.
With hindsight, we probably should have waited to organize the stakeholder consultation day until we had a solid workplan to present.  But comments from the stakeholders’ panel were still very useful.
Generally, though, the workshop has been alright.
What remains to be done? What happens on Monday when you go back to the office?
Now I have a responsibility to move the things forward; more than ever. I need to bring the research teams together. We need to develop a proposal and a research protocol, identify the leads of the research teams (as the contractual partners), recruit research support staff, do some costing for the activities, and institute a M&E protocol that is guided by well designed field studies. All these need to be completed by the start of the cropping season.
I will seek support from the regional office staff and other partners in Dar-es-Salaam to formulate the teams, perhaps considering the soil-crop-livestock interaction domain for the maize-based cropping system, for a start. Agro-ecological zoning will then constitute an independent variable. Rice and vegetable systems will address the soil-crop interaction domain.
What do you think Africa RISING needs more of in this region, generally?
We have lots of ideas right now, in fact so much that we have to prioritize so as to fit our work within the available financial resources provided under the Feed the Future Initiative, and for which we are grateful. So, Africa RISING needs more resource support. For now, we shall start with selected activities and build upon these along the way. What needs reinforcement? Studies in anthropology and policy which could help understand social-economic issues, as they are currently not addressed strongly enough in our research ideas.
What is your motto for this starting phase?
I am still in a learning phase, I have not been in the CGIAR system for a long time and have yet to refine my understanding as to how CGIAR centres operate. It is too early for me to have a motto but will likely formulate one along the team spirit exhibited in the workshop.

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