Refocusing agricultural R&D

Nari, Normal

By Birte Komolong

Previous articles in this column have highlighted the importance of agricultural research in catalysing innovations in the sector contributing to improving livelihood among smallholder farmers.
In PNG, NARI and a number of organisations are tasked with conducting agricultural research and development (R&D). All of them have a focus on smallholder farmers and are promising to contribute to improving rural livelihood through increasing productivity in crops and livestock farming under their respective mandates.
However, questions are increasingly being asked by stakeholders, the government and donor partners on the effectiveness and efficiency of research portfolios and the public investments in PNG’s R&D organisations in delivering their missions in light of little or no improvement in agricultural productivity and the livelihood of the vast majority of Papua New Guineans who depend on agriculture.
A number of major constraints have been identified in contributing to the poor performance of agricultural R&D: 
* Research agendas that are not responding to farmers’ needs (technology driven focus only);
* Lack or inadequate linkages, partnerships and coordination within and between organisations;
* Lack of inter- or multi-discipline in R&D (especially neglect
of socio-economic and socio-cultural aspects);
* Weak monitoring, evaluation and performance cultures (including lack of institutionalised organisational learning); and
* Insufficient resourcing of agricultural R&D.
Over the past three years with guidance from the Australian research and development support facility, an AusAID initiative, NARI has embarked on a major exercise to re-focus and transform the organisation in order to develop and implement more effective research portfolios that will result in real impacts at the farm household level. 
The intended transformation of the organisation is based on the following three major inter-related components and concepts:
1. Agriculture research for development
The ARD paradigm is the over-arching concept that NARI has adopted and that is guiding its planning and implementation approaches.
ARD is an emerging concept that is based on the growing sense that “business as usual” in agricultural R&D, ie, the linear model of “generation, transfer and adoption of technology” is not effective enough.
Development challenges in rural areas are complex, and cannot be resolved by individuals and/or institutions acting alone.
It requires integrated and collective actions of all stakeholders to improve institutions, policies and technologies involved in production and marketing.
ARD is not a fixed method, approach or specific process but involves a set of participatory processes that result in collective action at different levels to achieve rural development.
ARD requires a paradigm shift, a change of mentality, a different way of looking at the world.
* ARD is about change or innovation as an outcome; knowledge generation as a means to an end not the end unto itself; from a focus on technology to a focus on people;
* ARD places “research” as one of the components contributing to the development process, rather than its pivotal point;
* ARD involves a shift from “hard system analysis” (improving the efficiency of the system) to also “soft systems analysis” (determining the nature of the “system” and desirable outcomes);
* ARD requires not only an understanding of the parts of a system but also relationships between parts of the system; and
* ARD involves a shift from “consulting beneficiaries” as essence of participation to “facilitating stakeholders” to enhance interaction between actors for collective action.
2. Results-based management
Result-based management (RBM) is to become the driving force behind NARI’s institutional culture and practice in order to improve management effectiveness and accountability.
Results describe the change and the development that happens after a project has delivered something (a new technology, a service, capital goods).
In planning lingo, they are usually referred to as “outcomes” and “impacts”. RBM is based on four pillars: 
* The definition of strategic goals which provide a focus for action;
* The specification of expected results which contribute to these goals and align programmes, processes and resources behind them;
* On-going monitoring and assessment of performance, integrating lessons learnt into future planning; and
* Improved accountability, based on continuous feedback to improve performance.
NARI has developed a results framework which is the core to RBM and describes the strategy at the various levels of the organisational hierarchy to effect changes in development conditions as promised in it’s organisational mission and mandate.
3. Programme planning
Programme planning is part of developing the results framework mentioned above. However, it is mentioned here separately as it constitutes a major novel approach for NARI.
Projects are the most commonly used means of trying to catalyse development and this will remain to be the case.
However, it needs to be recognised that not every agricultural R&D project can and will generate a practical impact on the people’s livelihood.
It will require a carefully orchestrated sequence of inter-related projects in order to address development problems with all its complexity and variety of actors.
Such sequences can be designed under pre-defined themes or programmes whose objectives represent the range of expected results necessary to achieve the set organisational objectives and achieve development impacts.
NARI has embarked on a challenging path to better serve its stakeholders, especially the smallholder farmers in PNG.
Successful application of ARD will require participation of all actors and stakeholders in the sector.
It is positive to note that NARI’s partner organisations in the National Agricultural Research system have chosen a similar path to build their capacity and ultimately improve delivery of services to the farming communities in the country.
This highlights the need for collective action in the sector and to unleash the full potential of agriculture.