A unique network to harness the expertise of African agricultural professionals living in Europe is one step closer to launching after a meeting last week (28 September).
Organised by the Platform for African - European Partnership in Agricultural Research for Development (PAEPARD) and the Swedish University of Agricultural Science (SLU), the working group met at SLU in to consolidate plans for a European arm of the successful Association of African Agricultural Professionals in the Diaspora (AAAPD).
As with the American version, the Association of African Agricultural Professionals in the Diaspora-Europe (AAAPD-E) will use a database — to go online by mid-2013 — to link expatriate Africans with agricultural expertise, research centres, farm organisations and governments on the continent.
The network will fulfil a wide range of functions, such as enabling African universities to gain access to expertise, and facilitating collaboration, information-sharing and training exchanges.
It could also improve advocacy and lobbying, by creating a unified voice on issues the African diaspora can take on.
Many diaspora groups already exist in Europe, but the power of the new initiative lies in its singular focus on agriculture, said AAAPD's president, Peter Jeranyama.
"The reason why most of the diaspora groups haven't been that successful is that they are involved in too many things," he told SciDev.Net.
"If you narrow your focus down you have a chance of making a real impact."
Mobilising the diaspora effectively to tackle development problems is simply not possible without issue-specific networks, says Awil Mahamoud, director of the African Diaspora Policy Centre (ADPC), which will host the AAAPD-E in The Hague, Netherlands, for the next six months.
"We [ADPC] are getting requests from governments in Africa saying we need a diaspora group to help us in a specific sector," said Mahamoud.
But the new initiative faces significant hurdles, including how to source members, secure funding, and cope with the legal complexities of operating within multiple European countries.
A previous attempt by PAEPARD to engage with African diaspora organisations through a questionnaire got a poor response — suggesting AAAPD-E may struggle to gain support.
And many details regarding the organisation's structure, not least the involvement of PAEPARD, are yet to be decided.
Interim AAAPD-E chair, Linley Chiwona, accepted the potential pitfalls of the project, but saw important progress from the results of the first meeting.
"With any initiative there has to be a starting point with a group of motivated, engaged individuals," she said. "With this working group I see this motivation."