21 September, 2012

How do I feel by the end of the day... of a strategic retreat

I have been involved this whole week in the strategic retreat of the Changing Demand and Institutions Team at ILRI. It has been a very intensive exercise involving all the team members. I got to meet all my new colleagues.

The team leader Derek Baker wanted us collectively to write a conceptual framework for value chain analysis. This document is meant to serve as a common method for the team to respond to the various research questions our development partners will be asking us to solve.

We spent most of the first three days sharing ideas on team building and value chain analysis methods and tools. Epi Katjiuongua, Sirak Bahta and Nadhem Mtimet gave presentations on value chain performance indicators and methods for robust sampling of livestock traders in developing country contexts. But in general, Derek had limited powerpoint presentations to a minimum, preferring more interactive methods of knowledge sharing.

Acho Okike facilitated a workshop on who we were as a team, what we did and who we worked for.

Francis Wanyoike and I held a brainstorming exercise on why it was important to do whole livestock value chain analysis. In just five minutes and only three rounds of interventions from the colleagues present, we managed to fill up two flipcharts.

 I also facilitated a workshop on the different methods we could use to respond to value chain issues. We held two subgroup discussions too. The first was to come up with an outline for our conceptual framework. During the second subgroup discussion  we projected ourselves in three years time to decide who we wanted to be, what we would do, and who we would be working for. This was the mirror exercise to the first one facilitated by Acho. We all hope our team's work will be clearly focused on solving the issues of the poor and livestock value chain actors in three years' time.

Thursday and Friday was extremely studious. Derek had booked three meeting rooms in ILRI campus where he virtually locked us up for the collective write up of our conceptual framework. Colleagues passing by the meeting room were surprised to see a group of scientists gathered around a meeting table, but each one of us was bent over our laptop computers typing out our ideas without exchanging a word. Perhaps a result of too much discussion over the previous three days?

Derek had also ordered sandwiches into the meeting room so that we did not have to go to the canteen for lunch breaks. Motivated by the deadline of Friday 17.00 for the first draft of our conceptual framework, I guess we all kept on going, fueled by a generous provision of coffee, tea and biscuits.

I am delighted to say that we made it! Our conceptual framework for value chain analysis has been written up by 14.30 today. We will all go back to our respective duty stations with the first draft to read and improve upon. I look forward to using it to respond to the research questions of our institutional partners. 

I also look forward to the week end... This has been focus-intensive teamwork conducted under a tight deadline.

With a little help from my friends
The Beatles, The Beatles 1967-1970, EMI

All photos except coffee break: Nadhem Mtimet

18 September, 2012

This littly piggy went to market

I have just joined ILRI’s Changing Demand and Institutions Team as an Agricultural Economist based in Nairobi, Kenya. I am delighted to be back in the development business and to be able to blog about it!

Only two days into my new position I joined a team of colleagues already working in rural Uganda on the Livestock Data Innovation Project (LDIP). The objective of this project is to strengthen the capabilities of national statistical and veterinary services in collecting and analysing livestock data. The project is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and implemented by ILRI, the World Bank and FAO, in collaboration with the African Union Interafrican Bureau of Animal Resources

ILRI’s contribution to this project is to develop the methods and tools that will enable local development partners, veterinary services and statistical departments to understand better the structure of livestock production and marketing systems in their country. The objective of this trip to Uganda was to continue testing the group interview workshop method to collect quantitative data and the constraints analysis workshop method to collect more qualitative data on local dairy and pig production and marketing systems. The ILRI team comprised animal breeding experts Julie Ojango and Ben Lukuyu, the animal health expert Henry Kiara, and my economist colleagues Derek Baker and Nadhem Mtimet. The workshops with producers went very well thanks to the logistical support of ILRI’s Diana Oduor and facilitation and translation help from our local consultants and project partners. Despite the important human resources mobilized for this exercise and some more work needed to strengthen the sampling method, Derek believes this method is a cost-effective way to collect reasonably robust statistical data from farmers.

The concept is to gather around 35 producers dealing with the product we are interested in from one area into one large room so that they may complete the interview questionnaire individually, though with the help of the research team and their producer friends and local veterinarians. We had asked the local veterinary counterparts to sample the producers for us in order to get a wide selection ranging from smallholders to medium-sized agribusinesses. The questionnaire filling exercise took around four hours including a tea break and we are confident the data collected is robust as the research team was assisting all the time. 

On Friday afternoon I facilitated a value chain constraints analysis workshop with a group of six pig producers from Wakiso District. The objective of the workshop was to identify the marketing constraints the producers were facing to develop their pig production enterprises. We first started by mapping out the pig value chain in the district. 

I then asked the producers to state their objectives in terms of developing their pig enterprise.

Finally, I invited the farmers to list the one most important constraint they were facing to reach their development objective. I narrowed down the list to four items by asking the farmers to identify the most important and the second most important constraints. We then linked these to ILRI’s hypotheses of five major constraints faced by livestock producers: land and water, labour, capital, knowledge and information, and other (government policies, institutions, infrastructure etc.).

Further analysis of all the data collected through these producer workshops will enable us to identify the constraints faced by livestock producers in Uganda and Tanzania, and to link these with their general characteristics and choices of production systems.

This little piggy
Traditional nursery rhyme
This little piggy - 30 favourite songs and rhymes about animals on 1 CD, BBC Audiobooks

10 September, 2012

No worries for the rest of your days

I have just joined the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) as an agricultural economist in the institute's Markets, gender and livelihoods Theme. For the first time in my life, I will be based in Africa. This is a thrilling professional and personal experience for me.

I landed on Monday of last week in my new home base: Nairobi, Kenya. After just two days of administrative meetings, I joined a team already working in Uganda where I got acquainted with hilly green landscapes, slow-moving traffic, mashed plantain and sweet potato chips with meat stew, Lake Victoria and its grilled tilapia fish, and the easy-going attitude to life in Africa.

The long Ugandan traffic jams were perfect to share horror stories of traffic jams, food safety and overall security concerns for expatriates living in Nairobi. My team leader nonetheless put the record straight during our first one-on-one meeting: Nairobi is a very pleasant city to live in if one sticks to common sense and stays vigilant on security.

The next few months are going to be somewhat complicated with relocation, finding accommodation, buying a car, getting used to a new environment, finding appropriate groceries for my cooking, looking for musical opportunities etc. The whole process will be made even more stressful by the fact that my father is currently recovering in hospital in France following a very serious illness and several major surgical operations; I shall be shuttling between France and Kenya to help take care of him.

I will thus try to learn this lesson well:

Hakuna matata
Soundtrack from the film The lion king, Disney

My lamb chops will cause you to drool

This Summer I have been preparing myself to leave Paris and take a new expatriate job. 

One important part of this preparation was to see close friends and share some time with them before I left. I sent out invitations to all my Parisian friends. Despite the Summer holidays, a good number could come on different dates so I had many opportunities to cook different recipes with seasonal produce and host my friends at home for several three-course meals.

Likewise for office colleagues. It is traditional in the French civil service for officers leaving their duty station to host their colleagues for a treat. Usually it is champagne, canapés and pastries. During my two-and-a-half years at the Centre for Studies and Strategic Foresight of the French Ministry of agriculture I had been used to offer tea to colleagues during meetings. I would even bake a cake sometimes. So for my departure treat, I decided to serve tea and home-baked cakes to my colleagues. I chose a few of my best teas from my collection and spent two evenings baking before each one of the two parties I organized at two different dates and in two different locations of the Ministry. This enabled colleagues to attend my tea parties depending on their office location, and work and holiday commitments. It also allowed me to organize myself and manage to bake a sufficient number of cakes, tarts and biscuits for the number of guests expected. Because I knew some colleagues would prefer a savoury snack for their afternoon tea, I had also purchased pâtés and red wine from my home region of Landes in the Southwest of France to go with freshly baked baguette from the local bakery.

All in all, I seem to have spent quite a lot of my time in the kitchen this Summer, but I enjoy that anyway. My Summer finished on a grand note with a concert of baroque music with Les Métaboles given in Rouen as part of one of the many Summer musical festivals in France. Cooking and singing: what a fitting conclusion to this Parisian chapter of my blog on food and music.

I can cook too
Original soundtrack of the musical On the town, Warner Bros

Photo: Sciondriver