Creating and sustaining RRCs requires visionary and dynamic leadership. The centre also needs a motivated technical team with a diverse skill set, including training and extension methods, farming practices, management, and finance. Some staff may be engaged on a temporary basis. It is important to build local capacity and have a clearly defined staff development strategy for when external support is no longer around (see Box 3).
Successful RRCs are not islands. Instead, they must develop and maintain strong and diversified partnerships. Connections with research organisations, universities, NGOs for capacity development and technical guidance, and with institutions that can support them financially and politically, are necessary.
Box 3: Managing CIEFAD RCC
Le Centre Intégré d’Expérimentation et de Formation en Agriculture Durable (CIEFAD) in Bangangte, West Cameroon, was established by APADER, a local NGO. A management committee was set up that initially comprised a farmer group, contributing land and labour, and APADER bringing in financial resources. When activities of CIEFAD expanded to farmer training, service delivery, large-scale production of tree seedlings and seeds, organisation of exchange visits, etc., a technical director was appointed and the management committee was enlarged with the following: mayor, village chief, representative of a micro-finance institution, and the president of the agroforesters’ union. Today, CIEFAD is a reference centre for the production of improved planting material and training of young entrepreneurs, recognised by the Ministry of Agriculture. However, it is important that the technologies and practices promoted are beneficial to farmers, at least to gain their interest in the early stages of the RRC.
RRCs rely on a physical location for their research, demonstration, and training activities. They thus require upfront investment in land and buildings. Because RRCs develop gradually and one centre is different from another, it has been difficult to estimate investment costs. However, acquiring a suitable space may be expensive and there may be problems with land tenure. Some grassroots organisations have obtained a suitable place in their community through traditional land tenure arrangements, but it is recommended to formalise ‘ownership’ as soon as possible to avoid later claims on the land and/or infrastructure.
RRCs also need operational funds to run their activities. Staff salaries are usually the most expensive component of an RRC’s operating costs. Therefore, managers should consider alternative approaches, such as working with volunteers, temporary engagement of trainers, and building the capacity of farmer-trainers for multiplier effects. RRCs often focus on on-farm demonstrations and centre-based training and offer little extension whereby agents from the centre travel to other communities to extend support. The main reason for this is that they do not have adequate means of transport. However, increasing the scope of intervention beyond the community is vital for RRCs to remain relevant in the face of evolving needs.
RRCs are generally financed by a combination of:
- cash from supporting organisations (NGOs, development programmes, charity organisations, churches)
- sales of products (seeds, seedlings, farm products)
- service delivery (for-fee training programmes).
Supporting organisations usually provide the majority of the start-up costs and continue to contribute significantly to yearly operating costs, at least during the initial years. Most RRCs engage in farming activities that generate income to supplement other sources of support. RRCs also conduct ‘for-fee’ training programmes to clients seeking this service. In Cameroon these three sources of finance were more or less equally contributing to the operations of the RRCs. However, when an RRC focuses more on increasing its sales, less effort goes into training and extension.