The manifold bottom-up initiatives by nonprofit and charitable organizations need to be complemented by sustained actions from the top down. Many governments in the developing world are taking such actions by adopting a two-tiered strategy: formation of a cadre of experts in specialized research institutes, and technology transfer dispersed among local ‘knowledge centres.’
Research institutes are centralized facilities that employ and train scientists and technologists, both resident and visiting. There are many such institutes, particularly in India, China, and Africa, that address agricultural issues in the particular region they serve. Knowledge centres, by contrast, are not research venues but decentralized training facilities that enable local people, typically trained by professionals from the research institutes, to become an essential part of the S&T capacity building of their countries. The IAC report Realizing the Promise and Potential of African Agriculture in fact stresses that such networks of research institutes and knowledge centres are the most promising mechanism for cultivating cadres of scientists and engineers who in turn may engage farmers, both women and men, in the capacity-building process (IAC, 2004b).
These networks of relatively large regional research institutes and small and dispersed knowledge centres represent, in effect, wholesale and retail levels of S&T training. While the research institutes concentrate on the production of knowledge, the knowledge centres focus on its distribution and practical application. Thus knowledge centres typically embrace animal science, agriculture, the health sciences, water technology, alternative energy sources, post-harvest operations, and sustainability of the environment. Information technology, an attractive career option in itself, is also an important subject for knowledge centres because it greatly enhances the community’s access to relevant information.
For example, women farmers in South Sumatra are benefiting from Indonesia’s national programme of Warintek Multipurpose Community Telecenters that promote sustainable development through the use of appropriate science and technology (www.portal.unesco.org). These noncommercial information technology kiosks, sponsored by the Indonesian Ministry for Research and Technology, offer a range of media for distance education and face-to-face education alike. The S&T-focused CD-ROMs, for instance, are geared to meeting local needs; they provide training and advice on crucial aspects of growing and marketing area crops.
In India’s Pondicherry territory, the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation has established a pilot knowledge centre that is undertaking large-scale field demonstrations and training programmes for resource-poor farmers, principally women. They learn, for instance, about the serious consequences of malnutrition and are provided with knowledge of nutrition-security practices. To reach the largest possible population, a variety of technological and social procedures are being developed for attracting trainees, giving them training, and maintaining contact with them and their communities. And efforts are being made to ensure that administrative procedures involving appointments, training, recognition, and promotion are not slowed down by bureaucracy (www.mssrf.org).
In Burkina Faso, the UNESCO Chair, Women, Science, and Development in Africa, creates informal, interactive science-education programmes on health, water management, and agriculture, with university professors and students meeting with village women. It has also established a network with universities in surrounding countries (www.portal.unesco.org).
Members of the IAC