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New perspectives from young professionals to enhance research and innovation partnerships

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The 2016 annual meeting of the European Forum on Agricultural Research for Development (EFARD), organised in collaboration with the Platform for African-European partnership on Agricultural Research for Development (PAEPARD), brought together research and non-research professionals from Western, Central/Eastern Europe and Africa, to debate on the future of Users’-led research and innovation partnerships (MSHIP).

The 2016 EFARD annual meeting turned out to be a very exciting experience. Firstly, because it brought together a plethora of professionals (researchers and NGO representatives), from varying regions of the world, all of them working on different issues. Secondly, because it enabled a successful sharing and learning of experiences and lessons from others in related fields. In this blog post, I will describe some of the event's highlights and what they meant to me.

We agree on the destination, let's now agree on the pathway

The technical meeting opened with a clear message from Mr Roberto Aparicio, EC Policy Officer, indicating that research contributes to innovation and it is crucial to maximise the impact of agricultural research for development (ARD) on the ground.

During the subsequent discussions, the ARD community gathered at the meeting showed consensus on the need to demonstrate more impact but less on how to reach this target; Michael Hauser, President of AGRINATURA summarised this memorably, stating that "We agree on the sustainable development goals, but we have to fly in the dark". In order to move forward, therefore, organisations like EFARD, AGRINATURA and the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) have an important role to play in developing new collaborative actions.

Reflecting on lessons learned to achieve greater impacts

The meeting focused on the message that "lessons learned are crucial". A good example: the PAEPARD project, which is effectively translating theories and discourses into practices and engaging users in MSHIPs. Sharing and learning from the PAEPARD experiences and using the results of the CTA/EFARD study is likely to ensure new and stronger MSHIPs. And this will, in turn, contribute to achieving greater impact on the ground.

The PAEPARD experience teaches us that building MSHIPs that involve users or, in some cases, that are led by them, is a process which takes time. Although you may not always see the direct impact immediately, you see, and learn from, how PAEPARDs' ULP has built the capacity of non-research stakeholders.

Funding is an incentive, especially for the engagement of researchers in MSHIPs. Small funding should not be underestimated as it plays an important role in building capacity and trust, and acts as a catalyst for changing mind-sets. The MSHIP process must be adequately funded, and funds distributed in a timely manner.

Passion is also a key factor and we, researchers and non-researchers, must keep being passionate while working for development impact!

New perspectives from young professionals

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On the second day, young professionals from Eastern and Central Europe were given the floor to showcase their experiences. Jobs creation and improved farmers' livelihoods were among the clear and tangible impacts they achieved. The passion and spontaneity evident in their presentations demonstrated how increasingly including young professionals is imperative for the future success of ARD and MSHIP.

The Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD) country representatives from Georgia, Croatia, Hungary, Serbia and Mongolia made both research and non-researcher actors aware of the number of similar ARD challenges that Eastern/Central Europe and Africa face such as resilience building, postharvest losses linked with food waste and consumption of unhealthy food. It is my hope – and, I assume, also that of the rest of participants - that this will open new doors for building stronger collaboration between those two regions in agricultural research and innovation to achieve greater impact.

These similarities were further discussed during the working group sessions in which I participated and which have been yet another unique opportunity during my CTA/EFARD internship to learn, share and interact with the African and European ARD community. I was also pleased to have been given the opportunity to be involved in the organisation of the 2016 EFARD annual meeting and to present the preliminary results of the key lessons learned on the PAEPARD Users' Led Process (ULP) from my own research project. CTA hosts the Executive Secretariat for EFARD and is represented on the PAEPARD Steering Committee.

The future of EFARD: collaborative research and innovation for greater impact

With a new management team, including two new representatives from Eastern Europe, EFARD can facilitate new collaboration within Europe and between Europe and Africa. One main lesson I have learned from this experience is that EFARD and other ARD platforms must work together to support and enhance collaborative research and innovation partnerships, for transformational change in agriculture, thereby contributing to achieving the sustainable development goals.

This blogpost by Laurianne Ollivier originally appeared on the CTA website.