Providing information to 79 ACP countries is no mean feat for a relatively small organisation. Nevertheless, CTA has been on the frontline of the communications revolution in creating, sharing and disseminating information, knowledge and learning products to enrich ACP agriculture.
“Being able to have a partner such as CTA that has the ability to pull out knowledge from all sorts of institutions, document it and make it publicly available is huge,” states Agnes Kalibata, President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. Over the past 35 years, valued, up-to-date information on agricultural innovations has been provided through Spore and ICT Update magazines, and free-of-charge books and practical guides, amongst other information services and outputs produced by CTA. “Even today, I still refer to some of the best of CTA publications,” emphasises Maureen Agena, Communications and Advocacy Officer at the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture. CTA’s training and knowledge sharing opportunities, she adds, helped inspire and shape her career in communication for development.
“CTA gave the latest cutting-edge information on topical issues.” Leonard Mizzi, Head of Unit, European Commission, Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development
To enable invaluable material to be made available to farmers and extension workers, together with partners, CTA co-published an extensive range of knowledge products. “No other single organisation has matched CTA’s approach of producing both basic, grass-roots level, multi-lingual, agricultural production-focused documents, as well as technical books for free,” emphasised a 2011 independent evaluation of CTA.
Launched in 1985, CTA’s long-running Question and Answer Service (QAS) also provided information (initially by post and then online) to individuals and institutions by providing customised responses to specific requests for scientific and technical advice. For 26 years, the QAS benefited tens of thousands of farmers, including those not reached by extension services, with guidance on how to tackle pests and diseases and improve their productivity. “It was the first time anybody ever offered me any help,” stated Ugandan farmer Fatuma Kasibante after receiving expert advice in response to a query on rot in her pineapple crop.
“Spore articles have been such a source of inspiration for me as an individual and in my programmes.” Kiringai Kamau, Africa Lead, Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition Secretariat
Thirst for knowledge
Recognising a need to keep pace with the rapid development of ICTs, CTA also provided information in interactive multi-media formats, including via CD-ROMs. Established in 1988, CTA’s Database Subscription programme service enabled ACP organisations to receive the CD-ROMs – a new and exciting technology at the time – and online subscriptions to agricultural databases worldwide, providing valuable access to recent scientific findings. “This service is very important to us as it is a cost-effective way of providing agricultural information to staff and students,” stressed Erica Reniff of the University of the South Pacific. As a result of CTA’s support, 200 ACP universities and research centres had full access to a significant number of scientific journals.
With the evolution of the internet and CTA’s focus to promote ICT applications, CTA’s capacity building initiative on Web 2.0 (web services and applications) and social media supported the uptake of ICTs and provided people with the ability to collaborate and share information online. Evaluation surveys revealed that the Web 2.0 activities were instrumental in reaching a wide range of individuals by engaging local institutions and talent, and in improving their skills in information access, retrieval, management and sharing.
At policy level, CTA’s landmark Brussels Development Policy Briefings provided a critical platform for information and experience sharing. The Briefings events were initially established in 2007 to inform policymakers in Brussels about the importance of agriculture for ACP countries, and to push it higher up the policy agenda.
“We want the ideas that have been created by CTA to continue being utilised and support other programmes that we have.” Harry Kimtai, Principal Secretary for Livestock, Ministry of Agriculture, Kenya
Capitalising on experience
To transform agricultural development experience and knowledge into capital for future use, CTA has pioneered a set of learning processes known as experience capitalisation. CTA-led training on this approach benefited hundreds of individuals representing projects and organisations from around the world. An ongoing online community of practice of more than 500 people has evolved from training session discussions, and the lessons from participants’ experiences have been shared in more than 120 CTA-published stories.
However, the objective was not just to train a specific number of people or to help them to complete a capitalisation process. Critically, CTA aimed to support institutionalisation of the approach and to facilitate its adoption. “The CTA workshops were a great opportunity to see how to improve on the capitalisation processes we were running with various partners,” emphasised Haoua Ouattara, Senior Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist at Oxfam in Burkina Faso. To support the scaling out of experience capitalisation, a facilitators guide was published in 2019. “The process of experience capitalisation has really taken off now, and many of those who have benefited from our workshops will continue to use it after the end of our CTA project,” emphasises Jorge Chavez-Tafur, CTA Project Coordinator, Experience Capitalisation.