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This article is part of the supplement: Fostering innovation through building trust: lessons from agricultural biotechnology partnerships in Africa

Open Access Open Badges Research

Building effective partnerships: the role of trust in the Virus Resistant Cassava for Africa project

Obidimma C Ezezika123*, Justin Mabeya1 and Abdallah S Daar145

Author Affiliations

1 Sandra Rotman Centre, University Health Network and University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

2 African Centre for Innovation and Leadership Development, Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Nigeria

3 Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

4 Grand Challenges Canada

5 Dalla Lana School of Public Health and Department of Surgery, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

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Agriculture & Food Security 2012, 1(Suppl 1):S7  doi:10.1186/2048-7010-1-S1-S7

Published: 1 November 2012



Virus Resistant Cassava for Africa (VIRCA) is an agricultural biotechnology public-private partnership (PPP) comprising the Donald Danforth Plant Sciences Center (DDPSC), National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) of Uganda and Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI). The project seeks to develop virus-resistant cassava for farmers in Kenya and Uganda. Yet, there is much public skepticism about the use of genetically modified (GM) crops and private sector involvement in Africa. This case study sought to understand the role of trust in the VIRCA partnership.


We conducted semi-structured, face-to-face interviews to obtain stakeholders’ views on the challenges to, and practices for, building trust in the VIRCA partnership. Interviewee responses, together with relevant documents and articles, were analyzed to generate descriptions of how trust is operationalized in this evolving agbiotech PPP. Data were analyzed based on recurring and emergent themes from the interviewee responses.


Various factors undermine and build trust in agbiotech PPPs. Individual and institutional enthusiasm and detailed collaborative agreements stipulating partner roles and responsibilities are likely to enhance trust among partners. On the other hand, negative perceptions propagated by international partners about the capacities of African institutions and scientists, coupled with slow regulatory processes in Africa, are likely to be impediments to trust building.


Based on the findings of this study, we have derived four key lessons. First, differences in the capacity of the partner institutions and individuals should be respected. Second, technical and infrastructural capacity support for regulatory processes in Africa must be built. Third, detailed agreements and open and transparent partner practices during project implementation are necessary to dispel perceptions of inequality among partners. Fourth, institutional and individual commitment to succeed is important in initiation of the project. These lessons can be used by other agbiotech PPPs as a guide for building trust among partners and with the community.