Monday, April 6th, 2009

Jonathan Wadsworth

Jonathan Wadsworth

A previous detailed post about the meeting of the communications group with the Transition Management team (TMT) in Penang already gave an overview of the fruitful interaction that has been going on in Penang during the strategic communications workshop of the CGIAR.

Here are some closing remarks from DFID’s Jonathan Wadsworth, member of the TMT:

“I want to take the opportunity on behalf of the TMT to thank you for the time and effort you put into the discussion and the feedback you gave us. I pushed hard to get time on your agenda. Thank you for raising to that challenge, to give the transition management team that time, your energies and your deep thinking. I feel humbled by the high quality of these inputs; you are an absolutely fantastic resource. I don’t know if the system knows what it got. “

“Please talk to people and communicate with your friends and colleagues that the TMT group is really committed trying to do the right thing, the best thing. Our combined heart is really in the right place. And we are all working together. Please help us conveying this message.”


This article was first published in the International Livestock Research Institute’s (ILRI, ) internal intranet site. East Africa will be the last region in the world to be connected to the internet by optic fibre cable. This article helped to explain to our staff why internet connectivity has been so expensive and slow from East Africa and to convey the excitement we all feel that finally decent connectivity is coming to the region. Since the article was first published Ethiopia has commissioned the optic fibre link via Djibouti.


Africa has always felt disconnected, or at most connected by a thin thread, to the digital world. In the past, many projects attempting to connect African countries by fibre optic cable have floundered at an early stage.

The IDRC map “The Internet: Out of Africa” below shows the status of internet connectivity per capita in 2002.

The Internet: Out of Africa

The Internet: Out of Africa

The larger the circle over a country the more bandwidth per person was available from within the country, mostly from satellite connections. 

Only four fibre optic submarine cables landed on African soil and SAT3, the main West African cable, was not used to full capacity for many years due to poor infrastructure within the countries and poor management and marketing by incumbent telecommunication monopolies.

Since then, the availability of satellite connectivity has grown enormously but little has changed in terms of the fibre optic cables that connect Africa to the rest of the world.

The good news!

But all that is about to change! The map below “Sub-saharan Africa Undersea Cables (2011)” from our friend Steve Song’s blog site shows the eight undersea cable projects that are already underway and will be commissioned before the end of 2011.

Sub-saharan Africa Undersea Cables 2010 (source: )

Sub-saharan Africa Undersea Cables 2011

The thickness of the line indicates the comparative bandwidth that will be made available. The West coast, in particular South Africa, Nigeria and Ghana, are set to benefit most from this revolution, but the East coast will also be connected for the first time!

When compared to the thin black line of the original SAT3 cable you’ll see that the planned explosion in available bandwidth driven by the telecommunication companies is huge.

Those who read the Kenyan newspapers will know that the red SEACOM cable is due to be commissioned in Kenya at the end of June 2009 and that the green TEAMS cable is not far behind. See: “Seacom steps up cable marketing” Daily Nation (Kenya) 23 February 2009.  

And at the end of February 2009, the government of Ethiopia finally commissioned the cross border connection to Djibouti. This provides a much needed alternative to the unreliable fibre route through Sudan. It also means that Ethiopia can benefit from the SEACOM cable and eventually the blue EASSY cable that has been plagued and delayed by political infighting among the consortium members.

Ian Moore

Ian Moore

About the author

Ian Moore, ICT manager for the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). ILRI and ICRAF are headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya and ILRI has a second principal campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Ian is also the Project Coordinator of the ICT-KM’s Second-Level Connectivity Project. The objective of the Second-Level Connectivity project is to upgrade Internet access at up to 50 of our small and mid-sized remote locations, with particular emphasis on Africa. Read more about the Second-Level Connectivity project success stories.


Steve Song “Sub-Saharan Africa undersea cables (2011)” 

Canadian International Development Research Centre (IDRC) “The Internet: Out of Africa” (2002 )

The work of one the Pilot Projects of the Knowledge Sharing in Research(KSinR) Project  has been recently documented as dfid-r4d-case-study-series-ksinr-highlighted-in-listpart of the DFID Research for Development (R4D) case study series. The case study focuses on the exciting and innovative International Farmers’ Conference ( that was organised by ICARDA as part of its grant from the KSinR project to try out new knowledge sharing-oriented approaches to improve interaction and learning between researcher and stakeholders.

Check it out at


The text from the Case Study is below:

Sharing knowledge – tell us a story

Stories are a common tool used by farmers to communicate and get their message across. So could storytelling be a useful way for farmers to share experiences and information with scientists? The Participatory Plant Breeding (PPB) program of the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) wanted to give it a try, in order to demonstrate to researchers the value of farmer knowledge in plant breeding processes. With support from the Knowledge Sharing in Research (KSinR) project, of the CGIAR’s Information Communication Technology and Knowledge Management (ICT-KM) Program, this ICARDA-led Pilot Project is examining the value of storytelling, as a way of helping farmers to share their findings during PPB trials, and discuss their experience of farming more generally.

In May 2008, a four-day International Farmers’ Conference was organised bringing together more than 50 farmers from Syria, Algeria, Iran, Jordan, Egypt and Eritrea with researchers at ICARDA HQ in Syria. Instead of the standard conference format, the farmers were asked to share their experiences of farming and plant breeding through storytelling. The importance of better communication between crop breeders and farmers was underlined by Dr. Stefania Grando, Senior Researcher of the PPB at ICARDA: “PPB is being adopted relatively slowly, despite its proven efficacy, often due to a reluctance to work with farmers, amidst doubts of the knowledge and experience that farmers may have.

” Are you sitting comfortably?”

According to two of the conference organisers, Alessandra Galie and Bernhard Hack, the storytelling format was flexible enough to accommodate whatever issues the participants wanted to discuss, while also being less formal than conventional presentations. Participants found them easy to understand, with farmers from Syria commenting that the stories were “better than speeches, because they felt more like real life.” Ruqeia, a young Syrian farmer, believed she had learned a lot, particularly from the other Syrian farmers, about planting, fertiliser use, harvesting and storing seeds, and would use this new knowledge in her fields during the next year. Such farmer-to-farmer extension was, according to scientist and participant Maatougui Mohammad (ICARDA), a key benefit of the conference, of particular value to farmers from countries whose formal extension services are weak or non-existent.

Spreading the word

The Farmers’ Conference is one of a number of strategies now being explored under the KSinR project. Other approaches being piloted include the use of farmer fairs and participatory evaluation workshops, as well as radio programmes, training videos, and databases to better communicate research findings to target groups. The farmers’ stories will now be featured on a conference website (, in the form of audio files and written transcripts, translated into all the languages spoken by the participants. The site will also contain video clips of the storytelling, which can be sent by mobile phone. Sami Jaber, a farmer from Al Sweida in Syria, began his story with a saying: “If you don’t plant it, you don’t experience it.” The organisers are hopeful that retelling the stories, whether in person, online or by phone will help to spread the knowledge that comes from experience, for the benefit of other farmers and the crop breeders who work on their behalf.

More information:

* This case study is based on an article originally published in the DFID-supported New Agriculturist in September 2008

* DFID provides core funding to the CGIAR centres, including funding specifically allocated to ICARDA.

Source: WRENmedia Categories: Information and Communication, Sustainable Agriculture Date

Added: 31 March 2009

On the last day of the CGIAR Strategic Communication Workshop in Penang, Malaysia, some of the participants kindly agreed to give their feedback on the four-day event. Find out what they had to say: what worked, what didn’t work, and what they hope to see happening as an outcome of the workshop …

Savitri Mohapatra, Communications Officer, WARDA

Savitri Mohapatra

Savitri Mohapatra

I didn’t realize that we would meet all the Transition Management Team members and have an in-depth conversation with them. So that was the best part of the workshop: to see that there is a vision, that the changes are really going to take place, and that communications has a role to play in the change process.

I also liked the social media exposure, because that’s something new for me. I’m excited to continue with that when I get back to WARDA.

The meeting was really participative and focused. I have been to other workshops where some people talk too much, and others don’t get a chance to speak. Simone Staiger-Rivas’s facilitation kept us focused and got output from everyone. Sometimes, we thought, “Ooh, she’s not letting us speak”, but I think it’s good to control the group. Otherwise, there wouldn’t have been enough time to cover everything. It happens a lot during meetings.

In fact, the only problem was the lack of time spent on the new story ideas that are already on the calendar, but we can probably continue those via email.

Paul Stapleton, Head of Communications and Public Awareness, CIP

Paul Stapleton

Paul Stapleton

As far as I’m aware, everyone was very happy and satisfied about the whole workshop process. It was disrupted slightly by the Transition Management Team (TMT), but that was good because it gave us a chance to contribute to a very important process. We still managed to develop our stories, but perhaps not as intensively as planned. I think the work that we did looking at the CGIAR change process was very important and, obviously from what we heard, the TMT was very impressed with the contributions that were made. So, all in all, I think it’s been successful

I think Simone Staiger-Rivas’s facilitation was very good. Few of us were restrained about making our opinion heard, so Simone did a very good job of controlling us. She made sure everyone spoke in turn and guided the contribution. So I think most people were happy with the discussion part of the workshop as well as the presentations.

Nonetheless, I feel there should have been room for a discussion about the future of the communications group. If we could form a group with a clear identity, we might be able to make our voices heard in the CGIAR.

Mike Listman, Interim Head, Corporate Communications, CIMMYT

Mike Listman

Mike Listman

I came to Penang to see how CGIAR communicators can work together better in the future, whatever the form of CGIAR change.  After hearing the Transition Management Team talk, my early skepticism about the change process was mitigated somewhat. The meeting was very productive, both for my own particular work agenda and, in my opinion, for the CGIAR.  After not having interacted directly with the other communicators for quite some time, I was newly impressed with their professionalism, their knowledge and their enthusiasm to work together.

The workshop facilitation was very effective for what we needed to do. It helped bring out good ideas and got people working together on a common agenda. One particular aspect of facilitation that I hadn’t seen before was the Samoan Circle. I thought it was interesting and fun.

Sophie Clayton, Media Relations Manager, IRRI

Sophie Clayton

Sophie Clayton

I’ve only been with IRRI for six weeks, so I appreciated the importance of having a network of professionals and expertise coming together. Sessions like Nathan Russell’s that provided an historical perspective were really useful for a newcomer like me. It helped to understand where the organization has been, the support communications has received over the years, and the individual experiences and expertise.

I came into the workshop without knowing anything about the CGIAR change process, so trying to understand that, the communications of the change process, and who was responsible for what, was confusing at times. But the discussions within the communications group and with the Transition Management Team have clarified that somewhat.

The communication group’s positive outlook and willingness to contribute to the greater good, while continuing to get support for communications, was impressive. A community of communications professionals is very important.  The group’s feedback into the transition process is a positive step in ensuring that the expertise within the network is in the System – I can benefit from that, too.

Michael Hailu, Director of Communications, ICRAF

Michael Hailu

Michael Hailu

Before the workshop, I’d hoped to meet with the other CGIAR communicators to talk about story ideas and also to see if we could have some interaction with the Transition Management Team (TMT). What we actually achieved exceeded my expectations. I was really impressed with the TMT’s openness, the way they took on our ideas, and the intensity of the interaction between them and the communications group.

Last year, we came together as a communications group to work on specific story ideas for the media.  But it’s been two or three years since we’ve met to really think strategically and work on a plan. So it’s been nice.

Simone Staiger-Rivas did an excellent job in keeping the energy going and allowing people who are quieter to actually participate. Had the workshop not been facilitated, it would have been hard to hear everyone’s voice – in previous meetings, you’d have to fight for attention. I think overall the results were very good and the meeting has recreated the team’s enthusiasm and energy to keep it going, which I think is important.

Check out these terms for a snapshot of the breadth of conversation at the Consortium for Spatial Information (CSI) and AGCommons Conferences held at ILRI in Nairobi, March 31 – April 3.

1. Neo-Geography. Use of the interactive, web-based geographic tools such as Google Earth and Map Maker. Rather than presenting a static map, these new approaches allow–in fact encourage—users to interrogate, manipulate, and upload content to them. Within weeks of Map Maker’s release, whole cities and countries that had never been digitally mapped, suddenly had settlements and road networks mapped by users. Related to “crowd-sourcing,” see below. For outstanding examples, check out

2. The last ten kilometres. Coined by AGCommons to emphasize this organization’s mandate of going the extra mile, so to speak, to get farming information directly to people who can use it. It’s the notion that agricultural information should not sit in research centres but must benefit farmers and farm communities—including the suppliers, buyers, extension agents and others who serve them.
“Even if we design a breeding program, or a change of policy, it has to have impact at that level to be a focus of AGCommons,” says AGCommons Steering Committee member Stanley Wood, Senior Research Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and coordinator of CSI.

3. Crowd-sourcing. Harnessing the energy and enthusiasm of laypeople to provide masses of data for a particular application. See the neo-geography tool, Open Street Map. To improve the mapping of road networks, people walk or drive around with a GPS, come back and plug the data into their computer, then upload to the server in a standardized format. “It’s a fantastic and low-cost way to obtain large amounts of data,” says Wood. “The potential downside is quality control. You can overcome some of that by sheer numbers though. Like a Wiki, it’s essentially self-moderated.”

4. RustMapper. One of a number of computer applications that map –and help predict– the movement of important crop, human, or livestock diseases. Based on Google Earth and developed by the Global Rust Initiative, RustMapper software tracks a virulent strain of wheat stem rust—a disease that has plagued wheat farmers for millennia. A new type, Ug99, appeared in Uganda in 1999 and threatens global wheat supplies, since an estimated 80 percent of current wheat cultivars are thought to be susceptible. Spores travel on the wind, so the software includes wind patterns. RustMapper has been eerily on target, correctly predicting the disease’s entry from Uganda and Kenya into Ethiopia, Yemen, and Iran so far. More info RustMap.

5. Quick Wins. Awards recently presented by AgCommons to organizations working on spatial intelligence for a concrete product that delivers site-specific information to farmers. An example would be a phone hotline for farmers for cropping advice. See other blog entries for more on the five winning Quick Win projects, each of which are being developed within six to nine months. Description of the QuickWins can be found here

6. Drunk genes. A model of how genetic diversity spreads through the environment, since genetic movement initially seems erratic and unpredictable, like a drunk man trying to get home. For instance, maize spread from its origins in MesoAmerica, down the Andes, into North America, and ultimately across the world. Behind the seeming chaos lie environmental suitability, geography, trade, and cultural practices.

7. Potato Park: A 15,000 ha “living gene bank” near Cusco in the Peruvian Andes. Established by the International Potato Centre (CIP) in collaboration with local farmer’s groups, Potato Park is growing and therefore conserving hundreds of types of potatoes, including newly developed varieties, plus other types of Andean root and tuber crops. “They’re beautiful,” says CIP researcher Lieven Claessens “Some are amazing colours—purple, orange, pink—with strange shapes. It’s even become a tourist attraction—providing the local villagers with extra income in addition to working there.” Potato Park also provides food the six communities that jointly own the land. The first of its kind, the agreement aims to ensure that the control of genetic resources is kept with local people. For more details on Potato Park.

8. Index of hazard: A ranking of places at higher risk for a particular hazard, e.g. soil erosion or bird flu. Specialists use geospatial information to assess 1) the risk by location and 2) the vulnerability of populations to the risk, by location. Where high threat overlaps with high vulnerability—you have a high hazard rating, or hotspot. For instance, you’d have a hotspot for bird flu where you have a wild goose flyway overlapping a highly populated place with poultry markets.

9. Biogeomancer tools: Software for adding spatial specifics to place names. For instance, you could “biogeomance” all the place names in a series of research reports to come up with a map of all the places referenced in those reports, plus geographical and ecological data about those places. Then you could easily find site specifics and what work has been done at any particular site. Start with

10. QuickBird : a commercial satellite that takes images of 0.5 metre resolution. It’s expensive—but the highest resolution image currently available. Close your curtains!