|DRUSSA Fellowship: working with the Women in Agricultural Development (WIAD) Directorate of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture in Ghana|
|Tuesday, 29 March 2016 08:02|
As part of our series of interviews with DRUSSA Fellows, we talked to Dr Rose Omari, who has been appointed as a Fellow in the Women in Agricultural Development (WIAD) Directorate of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture in Ghana. The Fellowships are a way of linking the supply (universities) and demand (government) side of Research Uptake and her placement allows WIAD in-house access to research expertise from the Science and Technology Policy Research Institute (STEPRI) – which is one of the thirteen research institutes of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Ghana.
Having previously worked in the Ministry of Food and Agriculture in the WIAD Directorate, Dr Omari found it easy to adjust again to working in a government setting. It also made it easier for her to understand and adapt to some of the challenges of working in a government environment, from small (lack of office space) to large (delays in the release of national budget support for the department which in turn delays Dr Omari’s work plan.)
Technology can solve many problems and using emails, phone calls, text messages and whatsapp to communicate, the problem of office space was resolved. Adapting to national processes is a bit more of a challenge but solutions can still be found. Dr Omari decided to “focus on activities that require little or no financial resources except time and effort. For example, WIAD is hoping to seek funding to train their staff in nutrition-sensitive agriculture and her contribution in this case will be to provide that training. To help WIAD to secure funding from other sources, Dr Omari has jointly written and submitted a proposal for funding to address phytosanitary issues in the groundnut value chain.
The value of research in the policy process and the role of universities in the research/policy arena
Unlike perhaps other Departments and Directorates, because WIAD is a technical directorate, it has a research focus already. As Dr Omari notes “They already have a good working relationship with the Food Research Institute, for example, because they transfer and facilitate the transfer of most of the technologies that emanate from universities and research institutes. WIAD even has a product development and trial laboratory where most new food processing methods are refined before they are transferred to users. They understand the value of research and have even included in their work plan an activity to seek funding to conduct research on soybean utilization in Ghana. In fact, because of their appreciation of the relevance of research, it was quite easy for them to understand the objective of the DRUSSA policy Fellowships.”
Nevertheless “WIAD would want to see an increased level of collaboration between them and research institutions and universities mainly because they rely on the latter for up-to-date information for their clients who are mostly women farmers, processors and traders in food products”.
Some participants at the food safety training workshop
Using Evidence to enhance the effectiveness of government work
Dr Omari’s work has certainly made an impact within the Directorate and she has received much support. “As part of my DRUSSA Fellowship’s commitment to encourage the Ministry to use evidence-based data in policy formulation and programme implementation, I have organized a two-day training on 16th and 17th March, 2016 for WIAD staff to keep them abreast with current and emerging issues in food safety based on evidence from my own research and research from other sources. This training was relevant because among other things, WIAD is mandated to empower farmers, processors and enterprises to produce safe and quality food products for both local and international markets. The cooperation I received from management and staff of WIAD staff in the planning and delivery of the training was so overwhelming and already they have asked for training in other areas as well. This shows that they yearn for more information based on evidence since that will enhance the effectiveness of their work.”
Linking policy makers and universities
We asked Dr Omari about the challenges in linking universities and policy makers. Like other DRUSSA Fellows, she noted the challenge of time. “I think one challenge is that most policy makers are too busy and always on the move so it is difficult to even schedule meetings them. In most cases, when researchers are disseminating research results through workshops, top policy makers usually do not attend but rather they send “younger” representatives who may not participate effectively. I must however admit that the younger once also need such opportunities and exposure to enable them gain much confidence and experience”.
“The other challenge, I think, is the expectation from policy makers that any outsider coming to engage with them should provide incentives which makes it difficult for researchers to gather policy makers and share research outcomes with them. But I think researchers can overcome this challenge by including budget for research dissemination when they write grant proposals”.
“The third challenge is policy makers’ lack of interest in some research, especially if they do not provide solutions to key development challenges in the sector”. This is perhaps the most important learning for researchers; that their research evidence must be relevant to the current policy and implementation issues that are on the table.
Funding for research and Research Uptake is a challenge for both universities and government departments. “I think the cost of research can demotivate policy makers to engage researchers. It is therefore critical that researchers charge realistic fees for consultancies coming from policy makers. Policy makers may need to make decisions quickly but depending on the nature of research, some delays may occur, which can mar the researcher-policy maker relationship. I however think this issue can be addressed through proper engagement and communication. It will also be appropriate for policy makers and researchers to jointly develop grant proposals based on the needs of their ministries and the country as a whole”.
Dr Rose Omari is from the Science and Technology Policy Research Institute (STEPRI) in Ghana, and a DRUSSA Research Fellow