Africa / Agriculture / East Africa / Event / ILRIComms / Southern Africa

Facilitating mechanization entrepreneurship? Yes, we can!

Participants buzzing at the mechanization workshop, April 2012 (Credits: ILRI/Ewen Le Borgne)

Participants buzzing at the mechanization workshop, April 2012 (Credits: ILRI/Ewen Le Borgne)

The Knowledge Management and Information Services (KMIS) team at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) recently facilitated a regional workshop on ‘Research design for Mechanization Entrepreneurship to Leverage Sustainable Intensification in Rainfed Areas of Eastern and Southern Africa (MELISA)‘.

From 10 to 13 April, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) organized this workshop to collect inputs to the final stage of the development of a proposal that will be submitted to the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). The proposal aims at increasing agricultural production for food security and supply of commodity markets in Eastern and Southern Africa, through improved, equitable and fair access to mechanization.

KMIS inputs and process

Ewen Le Borgne from ILRI was the main facilitator and helped the project team design the workshop so as to help catalyze inputs from the many participants. These included partners representing the national agricultural research systems (NARS), partners from South Asia who have been involved in similar initiatives, Australian experts, representatives of the CIMMYT-led ‘SIMLESA‘ program (Sustainable Intensification of Maize-Legume cropping systems for food security in Eastern and Southern Africa program) and some project team participants, contributing directly to the writing of the proposal.

Through the four days, participants went through a number of sessions: debating their understanding of the major opportunities and challenges of mechanization entrepreneurship; hearing about past and current experiences from Oceania, Asia and Africa; zooming in on specific aspects of the proposal, i.e. best bets for conservation agriculture in Eastern and Southern Africa, institutional arrangements, networking and developing an enabling environment; identifying opportunities to share knowledge and expertise across the three regions represented; selecting and prioritizing sites for the project in all six countries concerned and finally discussing roles and responsibilities as well as budget shares. In spite of the very intensive set of presentations (14 on the first day), workshop participants remained very much lively and active and contributed a lot to the many discussions and interactive discussions that followed the presentations.


The interactive and flexible workshop approach allowed participants to cruise through this rich agenda and achieve concrete results. At the end of the four days the project team ended with a clear list of priority sites, excellent inputs for the four key objectives of the proposal, critical questions and issues to bear in mind for the implementation of the project and many opportunities to strengthen exchanges between Africa, Asia and Australia. The project team now has a few days to develop a strong final proposal for this project which complements the SIMLESA program. In addition, the participants developed a stronger team dynamics and avoided any bickering around issues of budget or responsibilities, which usually tend to make project design workshops quite sensitive.

Challenges and lessons learned

  • This topic falls outside the ILRI agenda and was therefore quite difficult to facilitate at times. Having a very short introduction about the key issues of the topic would help ‘crash in the agenda’ before the workshop – the proposal was too much to read, although it did help;
  • It remains very important to be very clear on the time given to presenters. In a couple of cases the presenters thought they had much more time available and were rushed through their presentation, although presenters and the facilitator remained flexible and kept time management sensible;
  • It is possible to have a  very interactive event in spite of many presentations, provided that the presentations are timed effectively (the facilitator was very strict on the time given to presenters) and that some of the presentations happen in parallel – to allow participants to choose the most interesting presentations for themselves. Some presentations were nonetheless given in plenary to provide an overall background to all participants and that was very helpful;
  • Some sessions involved co-facilitators, which were picked at the last minute by the organizing team and facilitated in slightly different ways, which could have been improved with proper selection beforehand and briefing by the lead facilitator;
  • Some assignments were structured around a template to fill. For lack of time by the organizing team, the templates were sometimes also developed last minute and therefore not fully ‘tested’. This led to some confusion in the exercise, luckily overcome by the additional clarifications provided by the organizing team;
  • Having an online space to prepare the workshop (in this case, a Google site) was great to gather all documents and presentations, group outputs before and during the workshop so that all participants could prepare themselves. However, participants were not always aware of the space. In ILRI events, we usually resort to a wiki page for each event facilitated to keep track of all documentation and help organizers/facilitators and participants find information they need and refer to that page as much as possible.

The organizers and participants alike were really happy with the results and a workshop that could combine short-term results and pave the way for a successful long-term project that will rely heavily on strong partnership and combined skill sets and experiences.

All documents and presentations related to this workshop are available on the Google Site set up by the CIMMYT project team.

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