This report presents in summary form the findings of a research consultation exercise undertaken in South Africa on behalf of the Central Research Department of the Department for International Development (DFID) of the British government. The exercise entailed one-on-one interviews with 23 opinion leaders in various sectors of the broader research community in South Africa.
The report documents the viewpoints of the respondents in DFID’s four priority themes. It covers both the substantive issues raised in relation to research areas and the creation of an environment which is conducive to the undertaking of useful types of research. Finally, it considers what mechanisms and processes can promote oth the uptake of research findings in policy work and the integration of research findings into the work of civil society and applied development arena.
A critical research issue in the “Sustainable agriculture and economic growth” theme is to document and understand what has changed in the past 20 years in South African and global agriculture that impacts on the fortunes of small-scale producers. This includes the kinds of crops they should be encouraged to grow, and how they should engage with, and be integrated into markets. In particular, the increasingly unfavourable returns-to-effort ratios and the growing risks and uncertainties of rainfed agriculture must be placed under the spotlight.
It was suggested that DFID should fund social science research on rural production systems and that it should specifically encourage - by way of funding calls - the establishment of multidisciplinary teams to conduct research in these complex systems. Some respondents noted the ‘serious and growing barriers’ to doing interdisciplinary research.
A key challenge is to improve agricultural production within the land reform programme. This requires a fresh approach that takes integrated land reform and agrarian production at appropriate scales and production output criteria as its point of departure, including experimenting and learning from area-based planning.
Given the high levels of wastage in the use of increasingly scarce water resources, research into water use by commercial farmers could assist by informing considerable tightening up and better resource management here. If we assume that climate change for southern Africa will mean increased water deficiencies, then developing ways for people to improve water security through local innovations in water harvesting techniques would be extremely useful. Water Users’ Associations could play an active role in protecting future water security, including monitoring how industry registers it water uses. DFID has under-focused in this area. Concerns about food security at the household level are likely to escalate and much more research at this level is required to understand the nuances of the factors to be taken into account to increase household food security.
There is effectively no national agricultural research agenda to speak of. As a result, much of what is promoted is expedient and not grounded in any coherent bigger picture of what is required for or work best in South African conditions. One key intervention would be for a funder like DFID to really engage in the broader agricultural sector to bring the key stakeholders together to focus on the larger goals for South African agriculture, the many obstacles and potential solutions to some of the challenges.
Several respondents were sceptical about or even dismissive of the role and developmental impact of state-centred and sub-regional bodies such as the African Union (AU), the New Partnership for African Development (Nepad) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), insisting that they were an “expensive waste of time.” Other respondents noted the importance of DFID working at the regional scale and pointed out that one of the lessons that can be drawn from Africa and South Africa is the importance of regionalism. Some respondents suggested that DFID is not good at the regional approach, even though the evidence exists that a regional approach supports economies of scale. At the regional level, key transboundary issues have been identified as trade, HIV/AIDS and the mobility of professionals, including researchers. Major issues are regional integration, economic growth and agriculture, climate change and poverty in its broad outline. Overall, a key issue is to insert civil society, which is weak, into the policy dialogue.
Given the South African context, it is essential that in-depth research into the complex nature of poverty continue to be prioritised by DFID and other funders. Rigorous, evidence-based research can have a significant influence on policy by illuminating key strategic issues around poverty that are not well researched nor well understood thus far.
In the ‘Killer diseases and healthcare’ theme, serious questions were asked with respect to the urgency (or lack thereof) with which Northern donor funding agencies are perceived to be approaching the critical issues facing healthcare in South and southern Africa. The frustration, expressed especially by those at the coal-face of HIV/AIDS interventions, is probably to be expected, given the political equivocation and apparent lack of urgency with which the HIV/AIDS pandemic has been tackled in South Africa and elsewhere.
If it is accepted, as one respondent stated that in the last few years funding has determined research priorities, this begs the question of whether DFID is serious about funding the priority issues as identified by stakeholders in South Africa?
The view was expressed that currently most resources get sucked in the national level, but there is an urgent need to develop capacity ‘from the bottom up’. The real need is to strengthen the capacity of the agencies implementing HIV/AIDS and other health-related programmes and also civil society in general, because the stronger civil society is, the more successful it will be in keeping government on track.
Respondents noted that South Africa has a rich tradition of research and has good experience in identifying research demands and priorities, but the outputs are not easily accessible to all stakeholders. In terms of HIV/AIDS research, what we have learned is a greater awareness of the importance of better coordination of the research effort. Required at this time are mechanisms that enable learning and to build on our experience and put in place more accountability mechanisms.
Respondents indicated that there remain insufficient opportunities to share knowledge, or to develop areas of new knowledge.
There should be adequate funding for substantial research projects, because funding larger projects has lower administrative costs than funding smaller projects. In addition, more people can learn more, there is the possibility of a greater contribution to knowledge, and the potential to develop research capacity. Capacity building is key to a sustainable health research system. We need to take a medium- to long-term view, as well as programmatic one. Other issues that must received attention include how research is done, for instance, how research programmes are constructed and even how research questions are phrased. A question that must be continually put is how useful is this research likely to be in the context of a health pandemic?
In terms of what DFID should fund, it is clear that while it is free to develop its own niche within the broader framework of research needs, it must not duplicate the work being funded by other donors. For one, on relations with other funders, the Paris Declaration makes provision for greater donor alignment. There should be a degree of flexibility and not rigid demarcation, but if DFID is serious and wants to have clear objectives and goals, e.g. assist in fight against HIV/AIDS, its programmes must be aligned to the national Strategic Plan programmes and targets, as well as to national research programmes and policy.
In respect of “good governance and social research”, one advantage South Africa offers is a leverage point for research efforts in Africa, as it has comparatively greater resources and competencies. The research funding model would presumably differ across countries. If implementation and impact is the objective, then programmes must be adopted in full consultation with government. In addition to this, DFID can play a greater role in supporting policy-oriented research, at the state and non-state levels, and for programmes and strategy. In the budget allocation for research, the inclusion of stakeholders needs to be provided for, and it must not be included as an afterthought. The principle of bringing all stakeholders and constituencies, and specifically those who are the ultimate users of the research, into the research design process was emphasised by a number of respondents.
The impact of un/employment on poverty must become a key research question given the current conjuncture in South Africa. This lack of emphasis on poverty by state and academia is exacerbated by the fact that poor do not have voice, and their proxies have no power.
With respect to “the impacts of climate change”, resilience adaptation is where, in the South African context, maximum research effort should be directed. This involves research into how to enhance the ability to cope with droughts, floods and so on, as well as how to cope with high climate variability, which is projected to go up.
On the issue of linkages, international organisations have recognised that there is value added when countries act in concert, for instance around climate change. The problem is that donors treat countries separately, and support research in isolation. The challenge is how to treat research as part of a system. The emphasis is currently on upstream causes of climate change, not on impact on the poor. Regionally, there is no coherent strategy on climate change: this is a significant gap.
Possible research questions relating to the impacts of climate change on the water sector need to recognise the cross-cutting nature of these impacts on water resources. Among the constituencies and sectors identified as relevant were municipalities, health, ecological reserve, agriculture, energy, mining, industry and other, including recreation.
All respondents felt that South Africa is not constrained by intellectual leadership, and the five South Africans who are currently IPCC lead authors contests to this. Extensive, productive partnerships exist between South Africa’s pre-eminent climate change specialists and other international partners.
In climate change research, getting research into use is often best done by going directly to policy and by interacting with the relevant government officials at regional and national levels so that they drive policy. The basic science must be done, but these findings must be captured in reviews that capture higher-level sets of policy-relevant conclusions, because this approach most readily draws the attention of policy-makers.
Important for policy-makers and other significant actors are both the impacts of climate change and the impacts of responses to climate change, the unintended consequences of international policy. One example would be an increase of the tax on airmiles or food-miles, that can serious implications, for instance, for South African fruit producers whose main export market is the UK and Europe. There are a number of these big issues on the horizon, not least is the one between food and fuel and the impact of climate variability on food availability.
Climate change scientists feel very strongly about the need to set up what they refer to as a climate change interface capacity. This would be enable the translation of the knowledge base for the purposes of communicating with a diverse stakeholder base. This task is not a one-way undertaking, but must be a dialogue between stakeholders and researchers, which is time and labour-intensive. It requires development work on communications, tailoring of products and messages, exploring the modes and means of transferance of findings and knowledge, as well as feeding back to scientists. One example of this in a different context is the UK Climate Impacts Programme (UKCIP).
It is recommended that DFID’s CRD consider making additional resources available to host workshops that draw in sector and cross-sector experts from in South Africa and across Southern Africa to engage in a series of ‘DFID Development Dialogues’, specifically around research issues pertinent to DFID’s four priority themes. This report could be used to inform these dialogues that would constitute a deepening, more continuous consultative process with partners in the sub-region.