Ed Rege, team leader on innovation platforms and director of PICO-Eastern Africa, introduces himself and his work with the program. It is one of a series of portraits of key people in Africa Chicken Genetic Gains (ACGG).
Tell us about your background
I am an animal geneticist by training. My initial education was in agriculture and later I undertook postgraduate training in genetics applied to animal breeding.
What is your function and what are you currently working to accomplish in ACGG?
For the last seven years, I shifted from doing and managing science (which is what I did for the 30 previous years of my career) to organizational development, with special interest in helping address institutional bottlenecks that constrain successful use of the output of research – knowledge and technologies. Looking at developing countries, I have been wondering why science is not taken to the field and because of that interest I went back to school and retrained in organizational development, including some tools (hence my work in facilitation). I am now involved in facilitation work, but do not consider facilitation a profession, rather as a tool.
For ACGG, the organization for which I work (PICO-Eastern Africa) is looking at institutions and institutional arrangements that could help: a) people talk to each other meaningfully, b) turn problem orientation into solution orientation; and c) create a space for people–especially the traditionally marginalized – e.g. poor farmers and women to actively engage and be heard.
The tool we use in ACGG to do this is the innovation platform (IP). Innovation platforms will be used in this project at different levels: the national level, where national stakeholders (chicken value chain actors) discuss what needs to be done at that level; and local/community level, to find out what farmers and local players in value chains consider their main constraints and think about solutions rather than wait for solutions to get to them. That is an institutional problem-solving approach that requires the knowledge of facilitation but more than anything else requires people to talk to, not at each other.
What is the next piece of work you are focusing on right now in and outside ACGG?
We have come through round one of establishing these innovation platforms at the national level. Round two is strengthening these activities by identifying and brining on board additional and critical stakeholders and moving from problem analysis towards the co-creation of solutions, and beginning to facilitate the development of IPs in the community level. A big deal is linking the research design (the technical side) with farmer engagement so that farmers feel it is their work that is supported, rather than them supporting researchers to do their (researchers) thing! We—the team supporting the IP process—will do whatever we can to help the thinking by the research designers and researchers, so that ACGG becomes really a transformative farmer-driven process, not a process using farmers. I see that as a big deal in the coming months as the chicks are taken to the field. It is an opportunity we cannot squander!
Why does this project matter and what gets you excited about it?
It is obvious to me that this project matters, but the really unique thing is that we are not going to use the traditional research approach where researches decide what technology fits into what context. Instead, the project is designed to provide a range of technology options (the chicken strains) and let farmers – through their own experimentation – decide which one works for them. This kind of leads to sustainable adoption. Poultry generally, but chickens in particular, are the livestock species of the poor. So if this works it will benefit the very poor, particularly women and children. The fact that it is a low investment means that the poor can genuinely get into it – with important implications for both income and nutrition.
What about the project is a cause of concern for you and how can it be addressed?
My biggest concern is that the majority of the project thinking remains research and the research part is preoccupying the minds of the team to the extent that I fear that this farmer focus, development-oriented approach, could be lost in pursuit of ‘great science’. That worries me and in the last program management team meeting (in Arusha, Tanzania) I expressed that concern. The secondary concern that I have is the possibility that importation of chickens from outside the project countries gets problematic because licensing may not get approved on time etc. Birds could also get sick and spread panic around and this could completely stall the project. However, I know these issues are being addresses so that is a secondary concern for me.
What do you foresee as the lasting impact of ACGG?
It will happen when one or more adapted productive chicken types are accepted by farmers themselves and they start raising them enthusiastically as opposed to doing it because others told them to do so. The biggest impact will be when they produce and sell the chickens at prices that justify their efforts. Once the chickens are established, the nutritional aspects will matter a lot too. Income and nutrition are both big issues for the poor.
Any other thought?
I am actually excited about the possibilities that this project goes where it needs to go but at the same time I am afraid about the things I said earlier. It may lead to great research findings and nice scientific publications, yes, but for me that is not what the project is about. It is about finding out which strains work and where, and achieving actual impact on the ground.