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A new university course will help agricultural scientists communicate their research to a wider audience, including small-scale farmers who can benefit from learning about new developments in the field.

The Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA) recently announced that they are finalising the curriculum for the course.

The postgraduate course will be offered from 2008 at four universities in eastern Africa. It aims to equip agricultural scientists with information technology and communication skills to disseminate agricultural information, said Dorothy Mukhebi, coordinator of the Regional Agricultural Information Network (RAIN), part of ASARECA.

Agnes Mwang'ombe, principal of the University of Nairobi's College of Agriculture and Veterinary Sciences, said scientists' traditional means of disseminating information through scientific journals does not reach the majority of farmers.

Many research papers are kept in libraries, where they are not accessible to small-scale farmers, who control 80 per cent of farming. And downsizing of public services means these farmers have limited access to frontline agricultural officers to advise them about the latest developments in farming techniques.

"Despite years of research that have generated agricultural technologies, one in five people in sub-Saharan Africa are still food insecure," Mwang'ombe told SciDev.Net.

ASARECA announced last month (17–18 May) that is it leading the appraisal of the new curriculum, developed by RAIN in partnership with the European Union.

A taskforce, whose members are drawn from national and international agricultural research institutes and universities, industry, nongovernmental organisations, government and development partners, is overseeing the formation of the course.

It has mobilised resources — from the government and development partners like the European Union — and is fostering relationships with industry and agricultural information users.

Michael Muthui, from the Kenya National Federation of Agricultural Producers, told SciDev.Net the course will help researchers learn to repackage their information in a form farmers can use.

He added that literate farmers are not sure of the credibility of reports from newspapers and the Internet written by non-professionals.

The Master's of Science in agricultural information and communication management will be offered at Alemaya University in Ethiopia, the University of Nairobi in Kenya, Sokoine University in Tanzania and Makerere University in Uganda.