Nurturing a network of policy analysts in Kenyan agriculture

A new initiative, dubbed ‘Nurturing a network of policy analysts for enhanced agricultural development and food and nutrition security in Kenya’ is seeking to empower scientists to be better translators of their research, with the aim of making agricultural policies and practices more science-based. 

Led by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in collaboration with Africa’s Regional Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System (ReSAKSS) and the Swedish-funded program Agriculture for Food Security 2030 (AgriFoSe2030), the new initiative is nurturing a network of policy analysts in Kenyan agriculture and equipping scientists with the right connections and skills for reaching decision makers in the agricultural sector.

By developing the capacity of recent PhD graduates to undertake policy-relevant research and analysis the new program is helping them disseminate their work to policymakers in support of agriculture and food security in Kenya. This capacity development initiative carries out high-quality policy analyses and develops knowledge products to improve policy making, monitoring, evaluation and learning.

Beneficiaries of the capacity development initiative are selected from among Kenyan scientists who have demonstrated interest in Kenya’s agricultural and food security policies. They must also have completed studies in some of the following AgriFoSe2030 themes:

i) social and economic dimensions of smallholder agriculture

ii) multi-functional landscapes in agriculture

iii) increased productivity and diversity in smallholder cropping systems

Understanding the pathway to policy change

The initiative is laying a firm foundation for increasing the pool of well-trained agriculture and food security policy analysts to better inform policymaking in Kenya. Last year, beneficiaries of the project took part in training workshops, mentoring, coaching, advising and networking activities organized by the ILRI-ReSSAKS team and other partners.

Participants listening in to one of the presentations (photo credit: ILRI/ Eric Kirui).

In the first phase, 12 participants from universities across Kenya took part in the ‘Nurturing a network of policy analysts for enhanced agricultural development and food and nutrition security in Kenya’ capacity building initiative, in Nairobi. They received training on:

• Preparing and disseminating high-quality policy briefs and other knowledge products

• Facilitating dialogue in the agriculture sector

• Conducting studies that address pertinent policy issues in the agricultural sector

• Supporting planning and monitoring and evaluation in the sector

Several participants expressed how they will bring their newly acquired knowledge back to their institutions ranging from Kenyan based Universities to various research organizations.

‘Lessons from this capacity building program will change the way I supervise post-graduate students. I will now also include a theory of change in all my research projects to enhance their planning and execution so that they can provide evidence for policy formulation,’ said Cecilia Onyango from the University of Nairobi.

Being able to understand the policy changes required in the agriculture sector and the role of research in enabling the changes is crucial. Theory of change, which is a specific type of methodology for planning, participation, and evaluation used in the philanthropy, not-for-profit and government sectors to promote social change is another tool the participants appreciated:

‘Before the training we were not very clear about how to articulate the change we wanted to achieve through our research, but now I will also involve my team to develop a theory of change—the change we want and how to get there,’ said Onyango.

Certificates were awarded to endorse participants achievements (photo credit: Eric Kirui/ ILRI)

Next steps

Many positive short-term outcomes were recorded by the participants following the first interactive training session. These include increased awareness of policy decision-making processes, enhanced networking skills, increased confidence, a new understanding of policy issues, knowledge of how to choose collaborators and identify areas of collaboration and appreciation of the need for intentional engagement with policy processes in Kenya.

Joseph Karugia, the ReSSAKS project lead, says that going forward, the initiative seeks to build on the gains made including having the participants meet policymakers to help them combine theory and practice. ReSSAKS is also considering scaling up the training in the country.

This initiative builds on a renewed interest in promoting agricultural production and food security through the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), which seeks to fight poverty, end hunger and spur economic growth around the agriculture sector. The CAADP continental framework recognizes and emphasizes the need to strengthen capabilities, and the policy and institutional environments required to trigger agricultural transformation. This includes interventions to strengthen capacity for evidence-based planning, implementation, review, and to increase capacity to generate, analyse and use data, information, knowledge and innovations.

‘I have learned about policy processes in Kenya; how these policies can originate from regional or continental level initiatives (e.g. CAADP) and get operationalized. I now appreciate that research should find its place in the policy cycle,’ said Charles Recha from Egerton University.

‘I thought the policy formulation was a preserve of those in specific positions within government and that scientists had nothing to do with it. But after our engagement with the various policymakers who participated in the training workshops in Nairobi, I now see that scientists, like me, have a role to play in the process. More importantly, the research we conduct is the source of evidence to inform the policy formulation process,’ said Jeremiah Okeyo from Embu University.