Science - November 18, 2004

IAC focuses on refresher courses and capacity building

The International Agricultural Centre (IAC) is devoting increasing attention to courses given in the south at partner organisations instead of in Wageningen. Many of these courses are refresher courses aimed at updating the knowledge of IAC alumni who have taken courses previously in Wageningen.

These courses represent a general trend at the IAC towards partnerships and capacity building of organisations as a whole, instead of focusing purely on individuals as the IAC did in the past. The disadvantage of the old approach was that it was not always clear how individual training contributed to the capacity of organisations as a whole. In shifting its attention to capacity building at the organisation level, IAC works increasingly through consultancy, advisory services and seminars in addition to still giving traditional training. According to the coordinator for education at IAC, Ben Beuming, refresher courses are a useful instrument. Not only are refresher courses an efficient way of building the capacity of a whole organisation, they also give the IAC more feeling of the kinds of questions and needs that the organisations have. As a result IAC can update and modify the training and consultancy services it offers.

A recent example of a refresher course illustrates this. A two-week refresher course was organised in Zanzibar at the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Organisation (WIOMSA). This regional organisation of marine scientists wanted to improve the scientific and management capacity of its members. Julius Francis, executive secretary of WIOMSA, tells that this was the first ever refresher course on fisheries to be organised in the region. Francis: ‘Most courses in the region are tied to projects, and once they end that’s the end of the course, there are no follow-up courses. But without follow-up and a chance to assess how things work out in practice it is difficult to assess the effectiveness of the courses offered.’ Another good feature Francis mentions is that participants developed their own Personal Action Plans, based on their own experiences. ‘This is an important tool for following up the progress of participants.’

One of the biggest sources of finance for IAC course participants is the Netherlands Fellowship Programme, part of the Dutch ministry of development cooperation. The same fund is also available to alumni of Wageningen University who want to take refresher courses, but according to Beuming this money often remains unused. Organising refresher courses requires extra administrative work that many departments do not want or cannot handle. Beuming: ‘In the past ten years the university has only organised one refresher course.’ Working together with the IAC, however, could offer opportunities, Beuming thinks. ‘We can do the administrative work; the university groups can offer content. In the past year we have jointly offered two refresher courses with the university and have three more planned, with the Crop and Weed Ecology group, but it doesn’t have to stop there.’ / JT