Preparing for the Africa RISING West Africa review and planning meeting: Interview with Asamoah Larbi
Asamoah Larbi is chief scientist for the Guinea Savannah region of Africa RISING in West Africa. He attended the recent East and Southern Africa review and planning meeting and is now planning for the similar West Africa workshop taking place 19-23 October. Here Asamoah reflects on Africa RISING progress in his region, and particularly Ghana.
What has been happening so far in West Africa?
The West African context is different than East and Southern Africa and Ethiopian Highlands. When I came in the project, there was a concept note which had a list of activities, outputs and related outcomes under each output. The inception workshop in January helped identify some partners. Africa Rice was assigned to lead the rice-based systems and the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) the maize-based systems in Ghana. Right from the beginning, there were these two systems; Africa Rice developed work plans around two meetings and when I joined I organized a stakeholder workshop for the maize-based system. We developed activities based on the outcomes outlined in the concept note. In Mali, ICRISAT (the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics) has been in charge of developing a work plan for sorghum-based systems in two southern districts.
For the maize-based systems IITA established trials and partnerships with SARI (Savanna Agriculture Research Institute) as host institute and with the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Health, some universities, a wide set of stakeholders. We set out a lot of activities e.g. several on-station trials (managed by SARI and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology), we worked with 592 farmers in the region on comparing improved maize, soy bean and cowpea varieties with varieties in use by farmers.
At the inception workshop we had a faint idea as to where to work etc. so in the stakeholder meeting in March we agreed to work in four districts and five communities in each of the three regions in the project, 60 communities in total. This selection was based on some of the criteria that had been agreed before I joined, particularly that activities should be adding on to ongoing projects.
Even though we had selected sites (at the March workshop) based on projects and partner contributions, some partners had projects outside these selected sites because they had already ongoing activities on other sites and could produce results by September as requested by the donor. Most activities were sub-contracted. The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) was sub-contracted to work on the livestock systems, The World Vegetable Center (AVRDC) was subcontracted to work on vegetables etc. For practical reasons, institutional interests were prioritized over integration and to date this has remained one of the challenges.
What have been good results in the Ghana work and what are you particularly proud about?
I think the work we have been doing around nutritional issues with the Home Science Department of the University for Developmental Studies, Ghana Health Services and the Women in Agriculture unit of the Ministry of Agriculture has been very interesting. We worked on many components identified as crucial across the project e.g. we contracted data management and statistical analysis to the Wisconsin International University College. The work with the Ghana Seed Producers Association has been interesting because there are many seed producers in the region. The partnerships have been very effective, we have been able to reach out to various stakeholders – not least with the communities. Training activities have been very intensive too.
What have been the biggest challenges so far in Ghana?
The rice and maize-based systems started at different times, with limited coordination among them.
What lessons do you take from the East and Southern Africa workshop for the Guinea Savannah review and planning workshop?
In West Africa we have to integrate the presentations from the start. We must also clearly highlight some boundaries, otherwise it may not be clear enough where the integration could happen. How to get the components together is key in this project, but it’s not going to be easy. We need to clearly define what we mean by intensification and what systems we want to work on.
In the planning workshop I think we can give an indication of boundaries that we now have. And the workshop will also be an opportunity for better communication.
What is the next phase all about?
I hope there can be greater integration. There will be limited intensification if we don’t achieve integration, and the latter comes with diversification: maize systems, rice systems, vegetables, livestock, trees etc.. I don’t think we should be talking about activities only for the second year but for the rest of the project period if we want to measure impact on households.