Daniel Assoumou MBA, Director of the CTA
More than 36 000 questions answered in 1991
Cameroonian agronomist Daniel Assoumou Mba is Head of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA ), the last-born of the Lomé specialised institutions.
• The CTA is the most recent of the ACP-EC joint institutions. How long has it been working?
-It has been operational since February 1985. It was set up by Lomé II and I was appointed in June 1983. When I started, I knew nothing about the CTA or where it was or anything and it was when I got to Brussels that they told me that it was to be based at Ede-Wageningen for the time being. I found that out in Brussels. I had to try and set it up and recruit the first staff and that took the rest of 1983 and the whole of 1984.
• The Centre has become operational since then... How big is the staff now?
-All in all-from the chauffeur to the porter and the director-35.
• How big is your operating budget?
-Currently ECU 5 million.
• The negotiators of the Convention hesitated a lot over the Centre's duties. Are they clear now?
-Their hesitation was not due to any lack of a specific mandate. What they were worried about was whether the Centre should deal directly with the problems of exploiting agricultural projects or stick to one or two specific aspects of agricultural development. What the Centre has to do, precisely, is to help the ACP countries get the scientific and technical data they need to help them develop their farming and rural sectors. We have had an independent consultants' study and that is the best way of describing what we do, with the idea of the transfer of technology and scientific and technical know-how being used for the development of ACP agriculture firmly in our sights. And added to this, to target our work better, there are things such as literacy campaigns in rural areas.
• Do all the potential users in the ACP countries know about your Centre now ?
-The target groups, as you know, are people in agricultural extension work, agricultural research and training, specialists in resource materials and planners. At the moment, they are in the picture, individually and nationally. But when it comes to exact knowledge by everyone involved in rural development, well, there we have some work to put in, which is why we are concentrating on opening up regional offices, focal points at national level-as indeed the ACP-EC subcommittee on agricultural cooperation has recommended-so that all the countries know what the Centre is doing.
• That means that you are going to send people to all the ACP countries, does it?
-No it does not! The CTA's mandate says that the Centre has to use existing structures and that is what we are going to do. We shall encourage the running of CTA activities within these structures, using the CTA's means and the structures and personnel of the ACP States.
• And presumably it is cooperation with these local structures which enables you to avoid duplication...
• Which of your activities is most popular with the users?
-The publications, I think, and more specifically our bulletin, which is called 'Spore'. In fact, it has got to the point where, if I go to a place where we are not known, all I have to do is say that the CTA is the organisation which publishes Spore for them to recognise us. So Spore is familiar to our users, and indeed well known. We print 30 000 copies in French and in English. Our publications in general are well received and highly regarded.
• How many titles hare you brought out since the Centre opened ?
• And how many seminars have you organised ?
-We have meetings which are entirely financed and organised by the CTA. Until 1986, we had six meetings a year on our programme-two in Africa, two in Europe, one in the Caribbean and one in the Pacific.
In 1987, we changed, because we had opened a regional office in the Pacific, at IRETA, an agricultural extension institute. Organisation in the Pacific region is based on meetings of heads of agriculture and these people asked the CTA to specify its method of assistance. It is they who meet and they who identify the weak spots and the shortcomings of extension work and the research and give the CTA a list of subjects which we can then get IRETA to deal with in workshops. The Pacific can ask for a series of four of these workshops every year.
Demographic, environmental and economic factors dictate that enormous challenges will face agricultural research workers in sub-Saharan Africa in the next decade. FAO estimates that the region's population will reach 700 million by 2000 AD, that 29 countries will not be able to feed their people and that exports will only amount to some 50% of imports. The resources available for research including manpower, are unlikely to expand in proportion to the challenge thus presenting the research community with a Herculean task.
Researchers in Africa will also have to propose ways of overcoming major constraints on resources, such as soil erosion, an increase in cropping intensity, the destruction of woodland and an apparent trend towards more frequent shortages of water.
By comparison with Africa, the outlook for the Caribbean and the Pacific seems less daunting. Whilst the huge scale and diversity of the African problem will demand special solutions, the needs of the Caribbean and Pacific regions should largely be met by a continuation of the activities that form the core of CTA's services and support programmes (see below).
CTA supports agricultural research by helping to ensure that problems relevant to ACP priorities are taken into consideration by specialised national and international institutes, and by assisting research scientists in ACP national agricultural research centres to improve the effectiveness of their research and by providing, within the limits of its mandate, information that will help train a successor generation of scientists. CTA also provides substantial support to the research community by facilitating the exchange of information.
ACP research workers benefit from from of the activities that form the core of CTA's support services and programmes: participation at meetings, the preparation of studies and reports the Question-and-Answer Service, the selective dissemination of information. the production and distribution of publications (including 'Spore'), the provision of references and bibliographies and support to networks and certain training activities.
CTA will therefore continue to:
- assist scientists in ACP countries to gain access to information they require
In future CTA will give more emphasis to:
- promotion of research linked to the concerns of extension particularly taking account of the problems of small producers through participatory approaches;
For the past two years, the same has happened in the Caribbean, where we work in the same way and organise two or three workshops a year.
What we have to do now is organise Africa along the same lines. So, all in all, there were six meetings a year until 1986 and there have been six meetings plus four workshops plus three workshops a year since. That is not the whole story either, because our aim is to mobilise ACP expertise and make it available to the whole world. For example, we finance ACP experts' attendance at meetings of the FAO and the WMO and so on.
• How does the CTA differ from its sister organisation, the CDI?
-I can't really talk about the CDI because I don't know enough about it. But the CTA doesn't finance projects or launch them. That is something we feel should be set up between the ACP countries and the Commission. All the CTA does is provide the intellectual input in the transfer of technology and find the scientific and technical information which agricultural projects or individuals or research specialists or target-groups need to develop their agriculture.
• Would you have liked to be involved in setting up projects?
-We would have to multiply our material and human resources by a factor of perhaps five or ten to do that. The question does not come up in those terms. The important thing is for the CTA to do its present job properly.
• How do you see CTA activity developing ?
-We have produced a document, an indicative plan, for the five years until the end of the first financial protocol of the present Convention. It is all there-we have to consolidate our achievements in the matter of technical meetings, documentation and extension work and then we have to extend our activity out to the countries so they can make use of the possibilities and achievements of the CTA. As Lomé 11 set out, the job of the CTA is to help the ACP States develop their capacity to use and master scientific and technical information with a view to achieving their aims and the CTA had this in its sights when it laid the foundations of its annual programme. In defining the main lines of our policy, we adopted the idea of prior studies, so we call an annual meeting, as we were asked, of a joint consultative committee of 24 experts, 12 ACPs and 12 Europeans, to help the Director finalise the programme. This, we feel, keeps the Centre's activity in line with the member countries' wishes. Because the question is how can we in one place respond to ACP queries about agricultural development in others, at the four corners of the earth - particularly when, as they say, agriculture is a local science. So we have to go out there. And we do. We take the opportunity of the trips we make to meetings of the Council of Ministers and the Joint Assembly and the tours we go on to hold technical meetings. That is when we see what is happening with the agricultural development programmes. The CTA has also started to ask ACP members who come to consultative committee meetings to describe the problems they are currently experiencing in their regions. The ACPs' difficulty is that the 69 countries are not represented-unlike the Member States of the Community, which all are. But fortunately, the ACP representatives tend to have an overall view of their regions' problems.
• These are the contacts which make your programme something on which everyone agrees...
• Do your plans include making greater use of information?
-That is what we are doing. The CTA is connected to data bases all over the world, to the US library, the FAO, the Commonwealth Agricultural Bureau and the research institutes. It has developed a network of expertise which it can consult at any time, whenever it gets questions. That is a very important side of our work. In 1991, we received more than 21000 letters from ACP countries, from individuals and institutions, and each one contained between three and five questions. Our question-answer service sent out no fewer 36 000 publications.
• You mentioned that the Centre was provisionally located at Ede- Wageningen. Have there been any drawbacks to being in the Netherlands, away from the institutional centres of the Convention ?
-Not at all! The Centre is at Wageningen provisionally-and the Convention says that the CTA has to be in one of the ACP States, by the way. This is after a study, financed by the Commission, on its current results and achievements. Now it is up to the ACP Committee of Ambassadors and the Commission. There is no problem about being out of Brussels, because I am invited to all the meetings concerning the CTA and the people in charge and anyone interested in what the CTA is doing in Wageningen should come and visit us here. It's only 200 km from Brussels, after all.:
Interview by Amadou TRAORÉ
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