Governance and management
RRCs are generally under the ownership of a grassroots organisation, registered as an NGO or a farmers’ association, and usually having other activities than running the centre. While the overall governing structure (General Assembly, Board of Directors) often remains under the umbrella organisation, the day-to-day management is generally delegated to a technical director. Based on the centre’s needs and available resources, staff may be taken on to be responsible for training, communication, production, marketing, public relations and partnerships, fundraising, etc.
To be effective, RRCs should be sensitive to the local environment in which they operate, and reflect the particular needs of the local community. In this case, one size does not fit all. RRCs try to achieve some kind of specialisation and excellence in a few technologies or services that are highly relevant to their zone of intervention. This distinguishes them from other centres. For example, in Cameroon, one RRC puts emphasis on soil fertility improvement and targets women farmers in particular. Another RRC specialises in good cocoa practices and collaborates primarily with cocoa cooperatives. However, all of them also have other activities in their portfolio.
Target groups: In Cameroon, RRCs have successfully addressed gender issues and included young people in their activities. This has been achieved by working specifically with women’s and youth groups, but also by offering a range of agricultural information and technologies of specific interest to women. Young people are often attracted to RRCs because of the employment opportunities they offer.
Type of information and technologies: Through their engagement in the evaluation and demonstration of technology, and partnerships with research institutes and universities, RRCs have the potential to extend complex and innovative technologies. RRCs promoted by ICRAF primarily focus on agroforestry, which requires a good understanding of ecological processes and multiple skills. Agroforestry typically only generates benefits after a couple of years. In such circumstances demonstrations are important to convince farmers, and technical support must continue for some years; these are things that RRCs can offer. RRCs can play an important role where a competing voice in agricultural development is needed (e.g. focus on sustainable production over cash-oriented agriculture), and/or community needs are not met by traditional extension services.
Institutional environment: RRCs are filling an important gap by providing information, techniques, ideas, and material help to poor farmers. Generally they thrive well where government extension systems are non-existent or not functional. Even in areas where public extension is effective, RRCs can complement other rural advisory services thanks to their proximity to the community. Moreover, they have a more diversified portfolio of products and services that aim at improving livelihoods and not only agricultural production or income. They also focus on vulnerable populations. Successful RRCs understand that working within existing legal frameworks is important for building legitimacy.