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We take our communication skills training to Africa

By Toss Gascoigne

The Crawford Fund commissioned us to run a 5-day Master Class last month in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. This follows a previous Master Class in Chiang Mai, Thailand, in November 2011.

20 African scientists and science communicators from 9 African nations attended, most supported by an Australian program.

The Crawford Fund was established to raise awareness of food-security issues and to carry out training for agricultural scientists in developing countries, working with Australian institutions such as AusAid and ACIAR.

The brief in Addis was simple: to boost the effectiveness and capability of agricultural research institutions in communicating, in new ways, to stakeholders and the general public the results of their research and its impact.

So Jenni and I found ourselves in Addis Ababa, at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). It’s one of the 15 research centres that dot the world.

ILRI is on the fringe of Addis. It’s a cross between a country club and a university campus, in contrast to the sprawl of Addis with its 5 million citizens.

The 20 participants were a lively lot, all African except for Francois the Frenchman, and working on projects ranging from re-afforestation and farm mechanisation to better cropping techniques and microcredit. All aimed to lift the incomes of poor farmers.

The program was crowded: preparing a communication plan, training in media skills, practice in presentation skills, and writing fact sheets and policy briefs. Cathy Reade from the Crawford Fund helped out.

5 working journalists and a coffee farmer made guest appearances to explain what they needed from scientists to help them write or broadcast stories, or grow better beans.

Did it work? The participants thought so: “Very useful training. The trainers are very experienced—they allow the learners to make mistakes, out of which they are made aware of them and how not to repeat them.”

Toss talks with some of the Addis Ababa workshop participants.

And how was Addis? Our impressions: full of history, with a shanty overlay. There’s surprisingly very little smoking and hardly any motorbikes. Happy people, and cheap—a great town!

We’re looking forwards to the next Master Class in Papua New Guinea later this year.