Establishment of a 'community of practice' of agricultural researchers in the East and Horn of Africa


2001 to 2013


As part of my work for the Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP), a program funded by The McKnight Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, I contributed to the establishment of a “community of practice” (CoP) of agricultural researchers and development practitioners in East Africa and the Horn of Africa (Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia). Over the past several years, the CCRP had set up CoPs, which consist of grant clusters focused on a set of regionally relevant issues, in three other regions. I serve as the liaison scientist for this newest CoP in the East and Horn of Africa and am thus charged with supporting the participants in networking, learning and collective action. We funded a new set of grants in the region.


The research and development sector in the East and Horn of Africa is under-resourced and fragmented. People working for research and development organizations are often isolated and lack opportunities to develop their knowledge and update their expertise. This compromises their capacity to deliver on their mandates to improve the livelihoods and food security of the populations they serve. Without attention to the larger systems context, each individual research project undertaken may be unlikely to attain far-reaching results.


To support the establishment of the new community of practice, I spent five months based in Nairobi, Kenya (February-June 2009). I was generously hosted at the Biosciences east and central Africa Hub (BecA) on the campus of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). While in Kenya, I liaised with other institutions and groups working in the region to identify a niche for our program.
Promising new projects were selected through a competitive process. Projects aimed at diversifying cropping systems by increasing the adaptation and availability of grain amaranth and cowpea in cereal-based systems of Uganda; combating banana bacterial wilt (Uganda and Kenya); improving the integration of chickpea in banana-based systems (Uganda); and applying the principles of agroecological intensification in degraded, cereal-based systems in Kenya and Uganda.
We held our first annual CoP meeting, focusing on research methods related to crop improvement. Graduate student Jesse Poland served as one of the resource persons. Invited representatives of non-governmental organizations, farmer organizations and communities also attended portions of the CoP meeting. Participants visited field activities of the tef project and other projects active in the area.


One of the CoP's initiatives is to improve the efficiency of African crop breeding programs by enhancing practical access to hand-held devices for data collection. The use of such devices has greatly enhanced the efficiency of our research program at Cornell; by exposing our African colleagues to this technology, it will be possible to radically improve their productivity as well. Thus far, we have provided hand-held data-gathering devices to three crop improvement programs: a Kenyan maize breeding program, the Ugandan finger millet breeding program, and a Kenyan maize and sorghum breeding program. Several other requests are currently being processed.

Submitted by: 

  • Nelson, Rebecca J

Researchers involved: 

  • Nelson, Rebecca J

Organizations involved: 

  • Reading University
  • The McKnight Foundation

International focus: 

  • Ethiopia
  • Kenya
  • Uganda