What a Year it has Been! What lies ahead?

By Ruth Oniang’o
(Newly Appointed Chair of Sasakawa Africa Association [SAA]
and Sasakawa Africa Fund for Extension Education [SAFE]
with headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

My 2010 is actually ending on a good note; my election to the above position to succeed the late Dr Norman Borlaug, the Father of the Green Revolution who died last year was truly humbling. There is no way anyone could ever step into Dr Borlaug’s shoes. Many though, myself included, can carry his last message (“take it to the farmer”) with us and deliver it in the right place. When I met Dr Borlaug at the Abuja Fertilizer Summit in 2006 in Abuja (Nigeria), a Summit he made sure to attend even though he had already started to ail, I shared with him my concern for African women smallholder farmers. May his spirit continue to rest in Eternal Peace

As we head towards the festive season and end of the year, we at AJFAND would like to wish all our FRIENDS a great festive season and a most fruitful 2011. We hope  each one of you will take a much deserved break to spend quietly or with family and friends. We have benefitted immensely from staying connected with you in this past year and look forward to continuing the same and more. We thank each one of you that has been receiving and reading our alert messages, and more importantly for your participation in our work. The journal circulation has grown profoundly in the past year; the number of quality manuscripts has also increased and keeping up has become a challenge despite the fact that we have been monthly in the past 2 years, publishing a minimum 10 articles every month. What concerns me now? SUCCESSION. I worried about succession from the time I launched the first issue in 2001, and I still worry about it. Whoever takes over will want to pay competitive remuneration to staff, and whoever takes after me as Editor-in-Chief will want to be compensated in monetary terms. I do this for free because I treat it as my legacy, and care for it like I would my own baby. It is, no doubt, one of the few passions I have left in life. You cannot run this journal unless you have a passion for it; the joy always is in when you finally publish an article, especially one which has been around for long, circulating between the author, the secretariat and the reviewers. Then I have these reviewers, many of whom I have not even met. It is a joy when we look at each other at some conference, introducing each other only to discover that our names already connect, if only virtually. Surely, I owe a lot to these reviewers, including the ones I know, who dedicatedly and for no monetary compensation, devote their time to serving Africa in this way. Then there are the authors, some of whom tell us that other journals move faster, and ask why are we are so slow (or inefficient, so they imply)? Am I apologetic on this point? I am not sure. We really try hard, on a shoestring budget, and with personnel who devote part-time to the journal, and who even go beyond their call of duty to meet my demands for quality and timely output. I actually feel offended when people call it a Magazine… a magazine? I wish it was because then a mistake here or there would not be so bad.

Many authors to a large extent, though, are very patient and I hope they know that the whole process is an experience for them to build on when they are preparing their next manuscript, not just for AJFAND, but for any other journal. By the time we reject a manuscript, it is for any one of the following reasons: the author has not honored reviewers’ comments; the subject matter is outside our mandate (which is rare these days); the language is such that we cannot correct it (since we do not have expertise in-house to work on language); or, the paper or one similar to it has been published elsewhere already by either the same or another author; or the manuscript is rejected by more than one reviewer on first round, or by same reviewer on second round. Considerable time is spent on the writing skills of those authors whose manuscripts need major polishing up. There are many opportunities to improve a manuscript. This goes ahead to fulfill part of our initial mission: to support capacity building in scholarly writing in this field. So, please if you can, wherever you are, support to mobilize resources to support this goal. Another goal of the journal was to see how our scholars in these agriculture related subjects could change their mindset (those who have not done so already) to ask themselves for what reasons they undertake their research and try to link these to policy making or to programs on the ground. If you look at the end of every article, there are recommendations; this shows that the author has moved on to think beyond just publishing for its own sake. Indeed, many authors have become better known since our alerts go to everyone in my address book and will be opened by most: my contact list contains all my friends around the globe, even those who are not direct stakeholders in the field of agricultural/food/nutrition research, and even politicians, policy makers, librarians (who have asked to have access to papers published by their members of faculty, and to Vice Chancellors and heads of research institutions who are proud to see publications by their own scientists (and their photographs) carried by this journal.

Now, from 9th to 10th November 2010 ,300 participants including top researchers, a few policy makers, donors and representatives of international NGOs attended the First Biofortification Conference in Washington DC, USA. Even though I was one of those who complained of the slow pace of research and the failure to link all that we do to the grassroots level, to the smallholder farmer, I did appreciate the extremely important research the scientists are involved in. First, they are very brave to be venturing into this new area, and second, they are courageous enough to be able to take the heat from those of us who express the urgency of finding a solution to world hunger. Well, it is possible in three years when the next conference is held, there will most likely be more results and therefore more reason to include participants from local NGOs, political sector, and private sector and more researchers from developing country institutions of research and higher learning. It is becoming clear that as we address the value chain, the private sector needs to be seen to be sufficiently involved from beginning to end; also when it comes to linking smallholder farmers to markets. After all, no sector knows how to market better than the private sector.

Then there was the conference of Nov 15 to 19, 2010 organised by RUFORUM (Regional Forum of Universities of Agriculture) that comprises 25 universities in Africa that offer agricultural curricula. This was a good conference that brought together Ministers of Agriculture, Education and related sectors: Vice Chancellors, Deans and partners from the USA, Europe, India and Latin America. Issues discussed at the Uganda gathering included the quality, content and relevance of agricultural research, incentives to keep interest in this field given that agriculture still has the potential to spur economic growth on the African continent; the need for collaboration between northern and southern Universities;  south to south collaboration was emphasized. Capacity building at tertiary level was highlighted and there was a call for African governments through CAADP (under NEPAD) to commit more resources towards capacity building in agriculture especially at the tertiary level, and a call for development partners to renew support in this sector. The discussions were rich, so was networking to the extent that there are likely to be high quality collaborative arrangements emerging between a number of institutions that attended the Conference.

It was encouraging to see the leadership role taken up by Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), started by Dr Monty Jones (World Food Prize Laureate) and headquartered in Accra, Ghana. The meeting ended on a high note with a communiqué by the Ministers who were in attendance. In future I expect to see more discussions on how to reach the smallholder farmers, how to make our work relevant for our countries, how to get our policy makers and politicians to understand the importance of Agriculture in Africa’s social and economic development, and its link to the realization of the Millenium Development Goals such as ending hunger; and why it is important for agricultural researchers to publish their work, and how a value chain approach will ensure we ultimately address the food security and nutrition problems our continent currently faces.

As we move towards the end of the year, we at AJFAND secretariat wish to once again convey very sincere thanks and best wishes to all our FRIENDS, and if you are receiving this message, you are such a one.

Ruth Oniang'o

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