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  • Working conditions key to research output, says study


[ADDIS ABABA] A functioning research environment is more important than higher salaries or bursts of extra training for getting good quality results out of West African scientists, new figures indicate.

Working conditions are a powerful shaper of morale which, in turn, shapes the productivity of agricultural scientists, who were the subject of a study reported this week (1–3 November) to an international conference on agricultural productivity and food security, held in Ethiopia and organised by the US-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the African Union Commission and the UN Economic Commission for Africa, both in Ethiopia.

Only when a good working environment was in place, did salary or the short-term training interventions favoured by donors and non-governmental organisations, influence productivity, according to Catherine Ragasa, author of the study and a senior researcher at IFPRI.

The study involved 300 randomly selected researchers and representatives of 47 public research institutions and universities from Nigeria, and 137 researchers and representatives of 16 agricultural research institutions and universities from Ghana.

"The organisational climate has been found to be very significant in inducing researchers to produce more — better facilities and research infrastructure served as important motivating factors," said Ragasa.

Such facilities include access to international journals, Internet access and laboratory equipment, Ragasa told the conference, Increasing Agricultural Productivity and Enhancing Food Security in Africa. A good working environment was also linked to more interactions between scientists and colleagues, policymakers and farmers.

Agricultural researchers working in institutions without these facilities were found to produce fewer publications and new technologies.

Only educational level was a better predictor than environment of individual researchers' productivity.

Ragasa said that funders pay too much attention to short-term training.

She explained that Ghana and Nigeria were chosen for the study because of the positive steps they have taken to reform their research institutions.

Solomon Bekele, an agricultural researcher at the Ethiopian Development Research Institute, said the findings probably extended to Ethiopia.

"Researchers, by nature, tend to be more responsive to situations related to their working environment than other factors," he said.

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