30 years

The power of a strong idea


In 2007, Dr. Irene Egyir, head of the Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness at the University of Ghana, attended a training-of-trainers’ workshop organised by CTA in collaboration with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Accra. The workshop was designed to introduce scientists and others to the innovation systems concept and its relevance to understanding, analysing and strengthening the Agricultural Science, Technology and Innovation (ASTI) system for enhanced agricultural performance in ACP countries.

“For me, this was a eureka! moment,” recalls Irene. “Everything I heard during the workshop about the ASTI system resonated with the work I’d been doing on subjects such as the use of agrochemicals by plantain farmers and urban agriculture.”

The ASTI system’s methodological framework was developed and piloted in 2004/2005 by CTA and the United Nations University Institute for New Technologies (UNU-INTECH) in partnership with ACP organizations. It was further modified in 2006 in consultation with EU and ACP universities, research organizations and development partners, and it has been widely used to analyse the performance of specific sub-sectors and commodities. The framework consists of six steps: reviewing the policy environment and the historical performance of the sub-sector under study; identifying the key actors; assessing their competencies, habits and practices; analysing the performance of the key functions at system level; and mapping the links between the actors.

“The ASTI systems approach provides an excellent framework for gathering information and analysing all the different factors that influence the way a sector operates,” says Irene. “It has changed the way I look at agricultural development and been of enormous benefit for my work.”

Following the Accra workshop, Irene collaborated with CSIR on an analysis of the plantain sub-sector in Ghana, using the ASTI system methodology. In addition to the desk research, this involved gathering data from 358 people involved in the value chain, from growers to traders and processors. The study revealed that there are strong links between farmers and traders, but relatively weak links between researchers and policymakers.


Based on their findings, Irene and her colleagues made a number of recommendations. Among other things, they called on the government to increase the budgetary allocation to research and development agencies, and strengthen policy dialogue. The authors also recommended that NGOs and the private sector should intervene more strongly in the provision of credit to farmer-based organisations. Their findings were also shared in national and international forums and published in scientific publications.

“One of the strengths of using the ASTI system approach was that it brought together farmers, traders, transporters, input dealers and everyone else involved in the value chain to discuss the problems and search for solutions,” says Irene.

Since then, Irene has been involved in a number of other projects that have used the ASTI systems framework, including a major study of Ghana’s marine and freshwater fisheries. Commissioned by CTA, this was one of several commodity-based case studies led by ACP researchers. Some of the other studies looked at cut flowers in Kenya, the dairy industry in Zambia, nutmeg in Grenada, bananas in St Vincent and the Grenadines, and rice in Senegal and Papua New Guinea.

Irene regularly makes use of the ASTI systems framework in her university work. “It is now a part of my toolbox on two of the courses I teach,” she says. One of these, which attracts up to 30 students a year, focuses on the rural economy; the other explores the subject of climate-smart agriculture. Irene has also been invited by CTA to share her knowledge and experience at training-of-trainers’ workshops in Ethiopia, Ghana and Nigeria.

Like Irene, other ACP experts who were trained by CTA have also gone on to train others and incorporated the framework in their research work. Other university lecturers and networks have included modules of the CTA training-of-trainers’ programme in their academic training and research programmes.


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