Priority Setting in Agricultural Research:
Comparing the experiences of Ghana and Kenya
Godfred Frempong
Keywords:  Directorate General for International Cooperation the Netherlands (DGIS); World Bank; Ghana; Kenya; Governmental organization; Participatory approaches.
Correct citation: Frempong, G. (1999), "Priority Setting in Agricultural Research: Comparing the experiences of Ghana and Kenya." Biotechnology and Development Monitor, No. 38, p. 14-19.

In the early 1990s, Ghana and Kenya undertook priority setting exercises to help improve their agricultural research. Ghana adopted a top-down approach, while in Kenya, both top-down and bottom-up approaches were used in two different exercises. The experiences of these countries confirm the importance of the participation of all stakeholder representatives in the priority setting exercise to help ensure the successful implementation of its outcome.

Agriculture is important for the economies of Ghana and Kenya. In Ghana about 80 per cent of the population is directly and indirectly connected to agriculture and related activities, according to the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA). Agriculture contributes about 40 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In 1996, Kenya’s agriculture contributed about 28 per cent of the country’s GDP, and employed over 60 per cent of the population.
However, these countries are facing serious decline in their agricultural productivity due to a variety of physical problems such as poor soils, droughts, pest infestations, and poor planting materials. More importantly, the economic deterioration of the two countries has negatively affected their agricultural production. Devaluated currencies have made imported agricultural inputs more expensive for small-scale farmers. This is important since in both countries approximately 80 per cent of the farmers are smallholders. Additionally, under the terms of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) inspired Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs), subsidies for agricultural inputs and price supports for agricultural produce have been abolished. Although these subsidies were generally of most benefit to large-scale farmers, their abolition affected small-scale farmers even more severely. These farmers were confronted with deteriorating terms of trade for their agricultural produce, making the purchase of basic goods even less affordable for them.
Efforts have been made to increase funding for public agricultural research in both countries. In Ghana, between 1976 and 1991, there was an increase of 84 per cent for agricultural research, from US$ 19 million to $35 million. In the same period, Kenya’s budget has increased by about 60 per cent, from US$ 59 million to US$ 94 million. In both cases, the respective governments have traditionally been the main source of funding. During the last decade, however, foreign donor support has become increasingly important. For the Kenya Agriculture Research Institute (KARI), for example, foreign donor support accounted for about 25 per cent of budget in 1986, rising to about 50 per cent in 1992.
Despite the increases in agricultural research budgets, in real terms the budget is not sufficient to meet the requirements of improving agricultural production. Moreover, the number of researchers has grown faster than the budget, resulting in a decrease in salaries and less expenditure per researcher. In Ghana, the budget has been spread thinly to various agricultural research projects. This has led to periodic stoppages of a number of research projects, causing serious delays in implementation and sub-optimal results. Many research institutes, such as the Biotechnology and Nuclear Agricultural Research of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission, have had to put much of their research activities on hold.
This situation required rational efforts to identify effectively the most important problems and solutions and to allocate scarce resources to these research projects. To address this need, priority setting exercises were undertaken (see box). The priority setting exercises in Kenya were specifically targeted at agro-biotechnology research, while in Ghana, the exercise was aimed at agricultural research in general. Nevertheless, due to the substantial similarities in agricultural research in Ghana and Kenya, both case studies indicate lessons in priority setting exercises, and in how such exercises can achieve their objectives.

What is priority setting?

In agricultural research, priority setting is an exercise to rank problems and corresponding solutions according to their importance. Priority setting can have two basic objectives: economic and political. The economic rationale is to ensure optimal resource allocation and planning of research. The political objectives include consensus building among the different actors such as governments, researchers, farmers and consumers. Priority setting has two main approaches: the top-down and bottom-up. The top-down approach is often dominated by officials and experts, and based on government goals and technical information provided at a programme level (research leaders and scientists). The bottom-up approach, on the other hand, uses a participatory process to identify priorities, starting with assessment of needs of the potential end-users. Generally, decisions arrived at using a bottom-up approach are built around consensus between all the stakeholders during the identification process.

Source: Manicad, G. (1997), "Priority Setting in Agriculture Research: A brief conceptual background." Biotechnology and Development Monitor, No.31, pp. 2-6.

Priority setting in Kenya
The underlying aim of Kenya’s priority setting exercises was to bolster agricultural development, specifically the national requirements for staples, cash crops and livestock, through the application of agricultural biotechnology. Two priority setting exercises were carried out. The first one was under the auspices of the National Advisory Committee on Biotechnology Advances and Applications (NACBAA). The NACBAA was established in 1990, with the task of developing a biotechnology strategy for Kenya for the year 2000, and serving as an advisory body to the Ministry of Research, Technical Training and Technology on policy and institutional issues. The committee was composed of ten directors of Kenyan National Agriculture Research Institutes (NARIs). In 1991, NACBAA conducted a priority setting exercise mainly involving a review of literature that included materials on Kenya’s agriculture, research and development (R&D) capabilities and activities, and general literature on the global trends of agricultural biotechnology, using a set of criteria which was developed by NACBAA (see table 1).
The NACBAA exercise identified the priority areas that are outlined in the second table below. It is difficult to determine the relevance of these results, however, as they were never implemented, mainly due to lack of funds.
In 1993, another priority setting exercise was conducted under the sponsorship of the Special Programme on Biotechnology and Development initiated by the Directorate General for International Cooperation and Development (DGIS) of the Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A bottom-up approach was adopted through a series of workshops, including farmers’ workshops in the districts of Machakos and Kakamega. The objective of the workshops was to assess farmers’ needs and prioritize those needs that could be addressed by biotechnology. The outcome of the farmers’ workshop provided the basis for a national workshop, which resulted in the formation of a Kenya Agricultural Biotechnology Platform (KABP), comprising researchers, policy makers and farmers. Six main priority areas were identified (see table 2).

Comparing experiences in Kenya
The results of the bottom-up approach partly overlapped with the results of the top-down approach; both exercises identified common priorities such as tissue culture, disease-free planting materials, and animal vaccines. However, the bottom-up approach also prioritized policy development on biosafety and institutional capacity building, as well as post-harvest technology. In terms of efficiency, the top-down approach was fast and less expensive, it did not involve interactions of various stakeholders, and there were neither commitments nor funding to implement the results.
In the DGIS-assisted priority setting, on the other hand, the workshops and consultations were used to arrive at consensus. Active participation also generated interest among the stakeholders, including the farmers, in the implementation of the outcome of the exercise. In 1996, for example, of the twelve projects presented by the research scientists, the farmers recommended the rejection of two; the other ten were submitted to DGIS, and subsequently approved for funding.
One of the challenges associated with the implementation of priority setting exercises using the bottom-up approach is to balance any differences in interests between researchers and farmers. While consensus has supposedly been achieved, farmers’ interests might still be dominated by those of the researchers, who tend to be more articulate. For example, one of the DGIS-sponsored projects is on the development of biosafety regulations that have already been completed and submitted for legislation. Logically, from the point of view of researchers and policy makers, it would be unwise to undertake biotechnology research without biosafety regulation. However, there is no clear indication as to why biosafety regulations would be an immediate priority for farmers. Moreover, the priority setting was based on problem areas which biotechnology could tackle, which already puts a limit on what the exercise could identify as farmers’ priority. This arrangement also tends to impose a distinction between researchers as developers and farmers as users of the technology, rather than to stimulate a more participatory type of technology development (see also Monitor No. 31).

Criteria used in priority setting exercises
  • importance of the production system 
  • importance of the commodity in diet of Ghanaians
  • relevance to specific target groups 
  • future gaps in demand
  • foreign exchange factors 
  • importance of the crop or livestock to the food chain
  • contribution of crop and livestock to ensure food security
  • availability of agricultural biotechnology techniques to solve problems related to the selected crops and livestock 
  • availability of capital and capacity for research in the selected crops and livestock
  • the need to reduce purchased inputs for agricultural activities
  • the potential for adding value to raw or semi-processed products
  • potential for small scale processing and manufacturing 
  • improvement in productivity in the marginalized zones 
  • possibilities of success and high adoption rate 
Sources: Olembo et al., 1996; NARP, 1994.

Priority setting in Ghana
In 1992, Ghana conducted a priority setting exercise under the National Agricultural Research Project (NARP) funded mainly by the World Bank with contributions from the Ghanaian government. The objective of this priority setting was to identify crops and livestock which were of critical importance to the country and which required either conventional or biotechnological research to improve their performance. The main criteria were developed by NARP.
The priority setting exercise was conducted by the Technical Secretariat of NARP, which is located at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), a council that manages several NARIs. A top-down approach was adopted, but modified during the process to involve the participation of other stakeholders. The exercise used a questionnaire that was based on a set of crops pre-selected by the Technical Secretariat, representing crops widely cultivated in the country. The questionnaires were sent to researchers and policy makers who were to categorize these crops into priorities based on the pre-set criteria (see first table).
The categorization was discussed at the district and regional centres of Ghana. The participants at these meetings included the regional and district directors of MOFA, extension officers, farmers’ organizations, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), research scientists, and donor agencies. These consultations culminated into a national workshop on priority setting (see second table).
From the identified priorities, 17 research programmes were established by the NARP secretariat in 1992. The research programmes provided a framework to guide all agricultural research conducted under the NARP. Out of the research programmes, 415 research projects have been initiated with a total budget of US$ 21 million from the World Bank. Most of these research projects are ongoing. For example, the maize research project has already developed four varieties, of which three are currently on field trials, while one has already been cultivated by farmers since 1997. However, an evaluation has still to be conducted.

Implementing priorities in Ghana
The interaction and consensus among the different stakeholders developed during the priority setting exercise have been sustained through the formation of Research Extension Linkage Committees (RELCs) in 1993. Five RELCs had been formed to cover each of the ecological zones of the country. The RELCs aim to encourage participation and increase interaction among the actors in technology development and dissemination.
According to Bekure and Annor-Frempong, of the 26 problems farmers identified during RELC-mediated workshops for the Middle Zone of Ghana in 1996, 20 have been incorporated into the ongoing research of the various research programmes. However, the process and quality of consulting, especially with farmers, has yet to be evaluated. For instance, there are no clear indications whether farmers were really able to express their needs during these consultations. Moreover, the pre-selection of crops may have limited the inclusion of other important crops.
One of the spin-offs of the Ghanaian priority setting has been better interaction among the agricultural researchers. Previously, contact had been minimal, whereas now there is an increase in collaboration on interinstitutional and interdisciplinary research activities. This is leading towards better-focused research as scientists and researchers from the universities and the NARIs are able to pool expertise and resources to address agricultural problems. For example, after 1992 researchers from the Oil Palm Research Institute of the CSIR, which also has a mandate to do research on coconuts, started collaborating with their counterparts from the Crop Science Department of the University of Ghana on viral diseases of coconut, one of the identified priorities.

Results of priority setting exercises
First priority 
Second priority
Third priority 
  • roots and tubers
  • cereals
  • grain legumes
  • livestock
  • fisheries
  • oil palm
  • horticultural crops
  • plantation crops
  • soybeans
  • cotton
  • pig husbandry
  • rubber
  • coffee
  • tobacco
  • fruits
  • application of tissue culture for mass propagation and disease elimination
  • development of new plant and animal disease diagnostic tests and rDNA animal vaccines
  • nitrogen fixation and molecular markers technology 
  • policy development of biosafety and capacity building at national and institutional levels
  • post harvest technology development and support for technology transfer and diffusion 
  • environmental protection and conservation of natural resources
  • tissue culture for plant micro-propagation and pathogen elimination
  • nitrogen and phosphorus fixation for crops and trees
  • animal vaccines, production of biomass energy
  • development of biochemical engineering
  • microbial treatment of environmental pollutants
Sources: Olembo et al., 1996; NARP, 1994.

Comparing different approaches
The comparison of the two country studies does not lead to a clear conclusion that either the top-down or the bottom-up approach gives better results in priority setting. In Kenya, where both approaches were used, the priorities identified were almost the same. In Ghana, where the top-down approach was employed, the identified results were supported by many of the stakeholders. What both the top-down experience in Ghana and the bottom-up approach in Kenya do suggest, however, is that the participation of various stakeholders is a key element in the potential success in priority setting. Participation helps in achieving the political objective of priority setting, namely promoting consensus on the identification of the research agenda among the different stakeholders. As for the economic objective, participation of various stakeholders helps to ensure a better understanding of which research should be prioritized and allocated with funds. Moreover, including the end-users of research in the process reassures donors that the research will have more relevance to the farmers, and can therefore boost donor confidence in the projects. The experiences of Ghana and Kenya also suggest that participation is a continuous process not to be applied in one research stage only. This also implies that participatory activities and methodologies have to be developed further.
Neither the consultation with farmers in the top-down priority setting exercise in Ghana, nor their active participation in the bottom-up approach in Kenya, gave a clear indication of the extent to which farmers are actually able to articulate their needs and give their feedback in the whole exercise. Although in Kenya various methodologies of Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) were used to enable farmers to express their opinions, there has been no clear assessment of how effective this was. For both countries, a policy recommendation would be that in order to ensure participation of all parties concerned, particularly the farmers, the process of farmer participation needs to be assessed. For this, various indicators could be used to evaluate the relevance of identified priority research. This evaluation should take place together with the farmers in their own varied agro-ecological and socioeconomic conditions, including the diversified uses of the commodities by both men and women farmers.
The participation of various stakeholders is also necessary to help ensure that the priorities identified will indeed be supported and projects implemented. For instance, the top-down approach in Kenya, while apparently successful in identifying research priorities similar to those derived from the bottom-up approach, never resulted in implementation. This process failed because necessary factors such as the structures, commitment and funding to implement the priorities did not exist. It is thus important to include a policy to assess realistically whether these factors to implement the identified priorities would be available. According to an official of KABP, the NACBAA exercise did not create the necessary interest among stakeholders at different levels. In view of this, the Ministry of Research, Technical Training and Technology did not act on the recommendations of the NACBAA. This was especially important since modern biotechnology is still relatively new to policy makers and other stakeholders that need to be convinced about its potential contribution to agricultural development. In contrast, both in Ghana and for the bottom-up approach in Kenya, institutional mechanisms facilitated the continuous interaction of various stakeholders, attesting to the importance of their involvement.
In terms of cost, while data are not available, the methodologies used and the number of consultations involved in the Kenyan bottom-up approach and in the later stages of the top-down approach in Ghana, suggest that participation is more costly than the top-down method involving only the directors of various NARIs. However, despite participation being initially more expensive, it does seem to be more cost-effective since it helps ensure that the results are actually useful and being implemented. This contrasts with the NACBAA approach, in which the process was cheaper, but in the end resources were wasted because the results were never used.
Since there is an overall decline of national government funding for agricultural research, it is inevitable that foreign donor support will become increasingly important. A common feature of the Ghana and Kenya examples is the dominant role that donors played in the priority setting exercises. The World Bank and DGIS financed not only the priority setting but also the implementation phase in Ghana and Kenya respectively. While this is very crucial for the successful implementation of the projects, dependence on donors could also have a negative effect for the NARIs. While priority setting could help ensure that research projects are more demand-driven rather than donor-driven, there is still a danger of donors having too much power over the whole process since they are the dominant source of funding. There is also the potential danger of the projects stalling or being abandoned altogether should the donors withdraw and funding cease.
Godfred Frempong

Science and Technology Policy Research Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.
PO Box CT 519, Accra, Ghana.
Phone (+233) 21 77 3856; Fax (+233) 21 773068; E-mail stepri@africaonline.com.gh

This article is the result of the fellowship programme of the Biotechnology and Development Monitor

Bekure, S. and Annor-Frempong, C. (1998), Evolution of Research/Extension Linkages in Ghana. Accra, Ghana: World Bank Office.

NARP, CSIR (1994), National Agricultural Research Strategic Plan, Final Report. Accra, Ghana: CSIR.

Odongo R.A and Thital, G.N.W (1993), Biotechnology Strategy for Kenya. Nairobi, Kenya: Kenya Agricultural Biotechnology Platform.

Olembo, N. K, Wafula, J.S., and Wekundah, J. M. (1996), "Priority Setting for Biotechnology- Kenya/DGIS Experience" in Turning Priorities into Feasible Programs, Komen, J., Cohen. J. and Ofir, Z. (eds.). The Hague: the Netherlands: ISNAR.

Wekundah, J.M. (1993), Impressions on the Process Leading to the National Agricultural Biotechnological Workshop. Nairobi, Kenya: Kenya Agricultural Biotechnology Platform.

Personal communications with: J. Komen and C. Falconi (ISNAR), J. Wekundah and J. Wafula (KARI), S. Koli (NARP Technical Secretariat).

Contributions to the Biotechnology and Development Monitor are not covered by any copyright. Exerpts may be translated or reproduced without prior permission (with exception of parts reproduced from third sources), with acknowledgement of source.


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