Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Africa Poised for Major Expansion of Food Production

Although Challenges Remain, Growing Evidence Supports Need for Investments in Integrated Approaches to Bring Fruits of Science to Farmers in the Field

“Agriculture in Africa is turning around. But if we want to put the days of stagnation firmly behind us, we need to foster a new era of collaboration that links evidence-based solutions being developed by researchers to public and private sector investments. None of us can work in isolation,” said Dr. Monty Jones, Executive Director of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) at 5th Agriculture Science Week and FARA General Assembly in Ouagadougou.

“The consensus coalescing around an integrated approach to agricultural development will allow Africa to transition from being a perennial ‘laggard’ in food production to a ‘lion’ on the move,” Jones added.

The gathering featured five days of intensive exchanges on how to increase investments in African agriculture in the wake of the financial crisis and priorities for mitigating the risks posed by globalization and climate change.

The FARA General Assembly occurred amidst growing interest from both inside and outside of Africa on how to realize the continent’s untapped agricultural potential. A report released earlier this month from McKinsey & Company predicts Africa’s agriculture sector could rapidly advance from generating US $280 billion a year today in revenue to $500 billion by 2020 to as much as $880 billion by 2030. According to some estimates, Africa has 60 percent of the world’s remaining arable land and an unmatched bounty of natural resources and plant and animal biodiversity.

Jones and others at the General Assembly acknowledged that significant challenges remain in addressing chronic food problems, as witnessed by the food shortages now affecting Niger and other countries of the Sahel region. But they insisted the overall trends across Africa are positive and noted that several African nations are on track to reach the United Nations Millennium Development Goal of cutting poverty in half by 2015.

For example, there were discussions at the conference of projects underway in northern Nigeria, Mozambique, southern Niger, and Uganda that have brought together research institutes, extension agents, and farmers’ organizations to introduce improved crop varieties of staples. In Uganda, farmers are growing NERICA rice varieties in upland areas that had never produced rice before. Uganda is now a net-exporter of rice.

“We are seeing in these and many other initiatives underway today how the process of integrating agriculture research for development (AR4D) can rapidly deliver innovation,” said Denis Kyetere, Director General, National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), Uganda, and Chairman of FARA’s Executive Board.

Among the many themes that emerged during the week was the need for more direct links between the researchers who are developing improved seeds and new farming techniques for Africa’s challenging, rain-fed conditions and the farmers who must implement them. Farmer groups in particular made it clear that they must have a voice in establishing research priorities.

“Smallholder farmers in Africa are researchers are in their own right,” Abiel Banda, Vice President of the Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU). “Where there is an identification of indigenous technology by farmers, researchers must recognize it. They need us as much as we need them.”

This theme was echoed by Hon. Mr. Venâncio Simão Massingue, Mozambique’s Minister of Science and Technology. He described the creation in “virtual knowledge centers” that link the country’s farm scientists to rural communities and direct researchers to identify problems and create solutions.

“When my scientists go into the field, I ask them not to even take bottled water and mosquito repellents. They need to understand the conditions in the community if they are going to understand their problems,” he said.

The FARA meeting also revealed a deepening commitment from governments to pursuing agriculture-driven economic growth.

Ministers from several African countries were on hand to announce their commitment the African Union’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP). There are now 19 countries in Africa that through CAADP have adopted a common approach to agriculture development that includes a commitment to increasing agriculture production by 6 percent each year and allocating 10 percent of government budgets to the farm sector. Burkina Faso signed the CAADP compact on the final day of the General Assembly.

Harvard University’s Calestous Juma said effectively using government funds and policies to improve agriculture means decision makers must pay greater attention to emerging technology trends.

“Rapid scientific advancement and constant changes in the global knowledge ecology require African leaders at all levels to start creating institutions for scientific advice and analysis,” he said. “Agricultural innovation could be the first beneficiary of informed advice from such bodies.”

But it was widely noted at the conference that government action alone is insufficient.

“Despite the progress we have achieved in strengthening funding for the agriculture sector, our investment needs remain huge and efforts are needed to find more support,” said Hon. Dr. Laurent Sedogo, Burkina Faso’s Minister’s of Agriculture, Water Resources and Fisheries.

In a discussion on financing, Namanga Ngongi, president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), said that farmers needed more consistent access to capital to increase adoption of new technologies. He pointed out that “agriculture contributes 40 percent of GDP and employs 70 percent of the labor force in Africa but it receives only 2 percent of commercial bank loans.”

AGRA’s efforts to use credit guarantees to facilitate farmer financing in Tanzania, Mozambique, Ghana, and Kenya have “unlocked” $160 million for smallholder farmers, local agro-dealers and others across the agriculture value chain, according to Ngongi.

Other issues highlighted at the conference included:

ν Efforts underway across the continent to balance food production needs with the potential for biofuels to provide both income and energy for agriculture enterprises.
ν The growing role of the BRIC countries--Brazil, India and China--in financing agriculture and other development projects in Africa.
ν Issues related to the use of biotechnology on Africa farms, including presentations on a program that is developing transgenic high-yield and drought-tolerant corn.
ν The importance of Africa’s plant and livestock biodiversity to addressing the challenges of food production, which included warnings that disease and drought resistant breeds that have evolved over thousands of years in Africa are at risk of being lost to various pressures, including cross-breeding with more productive but less resilient European and North American cattle.

“If countries can maintain the positive momentum, Africa will soon be in a position of unprecedented strength,” said Monty Jones. “The challenge we put to our FARA members is to develop the relationships between researchers and farmers, between the public and the private sector, to create a platform for progress.”

Jones added, “The only way for Africa to move forward is from a position of strength. Ultimately, the solution to our food challenges will come not from charity, but from investment.”

Photo credit: Jeff Haskins

Getting a Return on the FARA Investment: Bringing Back Impacts from the GA

David Howlett of the Africa College at Leeds University offered a departing challenge in the form of a question to his colleagues as work was wrapping up on this FARA General Assembly.

“What,” he asked, “will you do differently next week when you return to your offices? Because if we do not have new impacts to report at the next meeting, and only continue to talk about strategies and plans, then we will have collectively failed.”

He said that “writing papers for high level journals” is an excellent idea, but will not necessarily produce results in terms of training of tomorrow’s researchers and others, influencing policy, increasing public understanding, taking millions out of poverty, and reducing the impact of agriculture on the environment.

“We need to identify those who may benefit from or make use of our research, how they will benefit, and we need to devote time and money to communications,” he said.

The danger, he said, is that in an effort to achieve greater impact researchers will look for easy endeavors that produce minor results.

“We need to take some risks to continue to invest in blue skies research that may take time to produce results but has the potential to impact on a large-scale,” he said. “And importantly, we need to learn from our mistakes as well as from our successes; we are very bad at sharing our failures.”

In a similar vein, Michael Hailu, director of the Technical Center for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (known by its Dutch acronym CTA), warned of weak links between research and policy and skepticism among policy makers about the value of research.

“We have to be smart in the research community and feed into the policy process,” he said.

Hailu said scientists are very good at communicating amongst themselves but lack training in communicating to others. He said dealing with this weakness will be challenging.

“You must never underestimate the time and resources required to communicate effectively,” he said.

Image source: Ideas Project

Friday, July 23, 2010

Cell Phones, Flowers and the Blossoming of African Innovation

Prof. Calestous Juma is an internationally-recognized authority on the role of innovation in economic development. He is Director of the Science, Technology, and Globalization Project at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. He also leads the University’s Agricultural Innovation in Africa Project, which is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Prof Juma was also the first science reporter for the Kenyan newspaper, Daily Nation, which just celebrated it’s 50th anniversary.

Prof. Juma sat down with Zimbabwean journalist, Busani Bafana, on the sidelines FARAweek.

What is the state of innovation in Africa?

Prof. Juma: Africa is innovating. People just aren’t looking hard enough for the signs of innovation. Look at the use of the mobile telephone. Africans have created a whole new industry. It is the first place in the world where mobile phones have been used to transmit money and that has come out of Africa. That is a good example where Africa is innovating and we have seen African universities innovating, for example, the University of Stellenbosch is the first university in the developing world to develop and launch a satellite.

Do you see the same spirit of innovation in the agricultural sector?

Juma: We need to do more. We have gone through a series of famines. We have gone through a long period where we have relied on donors. Oddly enough, this was also a time when donors were not keen to fund agriculture research. Now, Africans and our governments are focusing on agriculture. I expect that we will see more African investment in our farm production. The case of Malawi is a good example of what a country can do very quickly with the right policies and investments.

Is public funding for innovation enough?

Juma: We can do more as the private sector grows. African economies are recovering. Look at the wealth being generated by telecommunications revolution. This wealth is beginning to fund research and build up university systems in places like Egypt and Ghana. This may happen in Kenya as well. The next step is leveraging resources from the public and private sector to contribute to research and innovation.

What are some success stories in African agricultural innovation?

Juma: NERICA is a powerful example. The concept of taking African rice and cross breeding it with Asian rice to create a new rice adapted to African conditions. This is a good example of getting new players and partnerships to foster innovation. In recent years, Kenya has emerged as one the world’s leading exporters of flowers. This is again another example of innovation and creative thinking. Kenyan producers identified a productive area for horticultural production near the airport, then connected with the airlines flying in and out of Nairobi as a way of tap into a very lucrative global flower market.

Report: Bioenergy Production Can Expand Across Africa Providing Income and Energy to Farmers without Displacing Food

Crops can be produced for bioenergy on a significant scale in west, eastern and southern Africa without doing damage to food production or natural habitats, according to a report produced by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), Imperial College London, and CAMCO International. The study was released today at the 5th African Agriculture Science Week in Burkina Faso.

“If approached with the proper policies and processes and with the inclusion of all the various stakeholders, bioenergy is not only compatible with food production; it can also greatly benefit agriculture in Africa,” said Dr. Rocio Diaz-Chavez, the report’s lead author and Research Fellow at Imperial College London. “Bioenergy production can bring investments in land, infrastructure, and human resources that could help unlock Africa’s latent potential and positively increase food production.”

The conclusions of the report, Mapping Food and Bioenergy in Africa, were drawn from a review of existing research and case studies of biofuel production and policy in six countries: Senegal, Mali, Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia, and Mozambique. Among the report’s findings is that there is enough land available to significantly increase the cultivation of crops, such as sugar cane, sorghum, and jatropha for biofuels without diminishing food production.

The case studies found that interest is growing across Africa in bioenergy to address both income and energy needs. For example, ethanol can be blended with fossil fuels to reduce dependence on expensive fuel imports that are a major drag on economic development. Ethanol also can be used in cooking stoves, reducing dependence on unhealthy and environmentally destructive charcoal and wood. In addition, using biodiesel to power electrical generators is of keen interest in many areas, given the challenges facing the power grid across Africa.

But as global demand escalates for biodiesel and ethanol, a key concern has emerged that a rush to expand production in Africa, particularly for export, could usurp land and resources needed food crops. But Diaz-Chavez said evidence uncovered in the FARA report finds “food versus bioenergy” should not be the choice, and that the more relevant discussion today is how to properly integrate bioenergy into agriculture production systems in different regions of Africa.

For example, the report concludes that sugar cane production for biofuels could be doubled in many areas “without reducing food production or destroying valuable habitats.” Furthermore, Diaz-Chavez said it’s clear that many African countries are sensitive to potential conflicts with food production and are pursuing policies that address this concern.

“There have been individual instances where bioenergy production has produced negative impacts, but that does not mean it is not possible to develop this sector in a sustainable manner,” she said.

For example, Mozambique has adopted a policy that designates only sugar cane and sweet sorghum for ethanol and jatropha and coconut for biodiesel. In South Africa, Parliament has decreed that maize can no longer be used for biofuel. Mali does not allow food crops to be used for biofuel production. Also, the report finds programs in Mali to increase production of jatropha, a shrub that produces seeds that can be converted into fuel, are benefiting local smallholder farmers “without compromising food production.”

The analysis reveals that the challenge today is not so much whether bioenergy production can co-exist with food production but rather how it can be scaled-up to help African countries realize their potential.

“There are the same challenges you see for any crops, which is if you don’t have adequate resources, you cannot boost production,” she said. For example, the report concludes that in the less developed countries of Africa, “it is possible to triple yields by using improved management practices, potentially freeing up more land for bioenergy production.”

Part of the study was devoted to identifying or “mapping” the wide array of groups in Africa who are getting involved in various aspects of bioenergy production. They include farmers groups, NGOs, industry and, in governments, agriculture, transport, energy, and environment ministries and agencies.

“We know there is intense interest in many sectors, but the problem is they are not necessarily communicating with one another,” said Dr. Monty Jones, Executive Director of FARA. “It is a situation that offers an opportunity for FARA, as an organization with partners in the public and private sector across the region, to provide a forum that brings all of these different interests together to form a cohesive and inclusive approach to bioenergy production.”

At a discussion of the report during the Science Week, a key issue that emerged was that bioenergy issues must be part of a broader conversation about how to meet the energy needs of African farmers.

“Energy is the key to modernizing agriculture in Africa,” said Dr. Ibrahim Togola, who heads an agriculture industry development group in Mail and is a professor at Mali’s Rural Polytechnical Institute. “We need to make our politicians understand that we will never have an agriculture revolution in Africa without having access to modern energy services,” he said.

For a copy of the report, please visit here.

AGRA’s Namanga Ngongi Keeps Score

As head of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Dr. Namanga Ngongi is keenly aware of the challenges facing African agriculture in multiple areas, such as getting access to improved seeds and fertilizers and building markets for African agricultural products. But one of the most glaring gaps highlighted in his speech at the opening session of the FARA General Assembly is in the area of finance.

“The agriculture sector has great difficulties getting finance,” he said. “Agriculture contributes 40 percent of GDP and 70 percent of the labor force in Africa is employed in agriculture, but it received only two percent of commercial bank loans.

“We should try by all means to increase farmer access to credits,” he added.

Ngongi noted that AGRA has “pioneered” new programs that “use credit guarantees to leverage idle capital in Africa’s banks.”

For example, in Tanzania, US $2.1 million in credit guarantees unlocked US $10 million in credit for smallholder farmers and agro-dealers. Combined with similar efforts in Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, credit guarantees have generated US $160 million for farmers and other across the value chain.

“These financial schemes have not only provided access to credit but have done so with more flexible conditions and at lower interest rates,” he said.

Shining a little light on African agriculture

By Susanna Thorp, WRENmedia

“African scientists are publishing more than they used to but they are not doing justice to the science they produce,” says Stephen Rudgard of FAO. “Most outputs of agricultural research are not truly visible. We have to realise this is a major challenge.”

Although science in Africa is becoming more accessible, there is still a long way to go, he said in the opening presentation for Enhancing the accessibility of research outputs through more coherent knowledge centres and networks. Rudgard continued, “There are some serious gaps in inter-regional collaboration with very few open access repositories in Africa. It is no means dark but there could be more progress. Even access to information from international centres varies considerably and is not always that strong.”

“Capacity building and communication can do much for an agricultural research organisation,” emphasised Dr A. B. Salifu, director-general of CSIR in Ghana. He highlighted how successful this had been when making a call for research proposals. After capacity building was offered in proposal writing, three times as many projects were selected for funding. In addition, he said, most researchers had increased confidence to submit articles to the national press.

“In Africa, our greatest problem has always been capacity,” said Salifu. “For too long we have been reactive rather than proactive. This has to change.” To provide better visibility of CSIR’s research in the media he stated that they had also worked with selected media houses to train five science journalists to work with. In addition, an ICT/communications manual had been launched for the benefit of CSIR researchers.

Break out sessions to discuss the key incentives and benefits for individual researchers of making research outputs truly accessible identified personal recognition for ones efforts, career progression, getting research into use, more networking opportunities as well as access to funding resources and contribution to science and development.

“The issues highlighted by the group affect how research is shared,” stated Rudgard as he introduced the global partnership CIARD initiative, which was launched in 2008 to provide improved coherence for information in ARD. [Achievements during the last two years include development of a manifesto, a health checklist for institutions to see where they stand in terms of information sharing, pathways on how the checklist can be reached and, through, GFAR, a registry of more than 100 agricultural information services.]

“Since the launch of CIARD, we have learnt that we need to diversify the ways in which we make information accessible,” he continued. “There are many information knowledge management tools and it is not always clear which ones to use. Institutions and individuals need guidance and training. There is no one size fits all. We have to tailor solutions according to identified needs and we must co-ordinate our efforts.”

Complementing and adding value to others is the aim of FARA’s multi-partner RAILS (Regional Agricultural Information and Learning System) initiative, introduced to the delegates by Dady Demby of FARA. The approach focuses on ‘bringing people together in promoting effective use of ICT tools through relevant processes for content development and knowledge sharing.’

“Through this initiative we are contributing to improving access to knowledge on African ARD, providing information in the right format for the right audience,” said Demby. “Through national learning teams, composed of a variety of stakeholders, working together as intermediaries, we have been able to significantly increase access to information and knowledge sharing.”

Further information on RAILS and CIARD can be accessed at:
www.ciard.net and www.erails.net

From Long-Horns to Short-Horns, a Threat to Africa’s Livestock Diversity

In West and Central Africa there are breeds known as humpless longhorn and shorthorn cattle that have been in the region for thousands of years. During this time they have evolved ways to survive many diseases, including trypanosomiasis, which each year kills an estimated three to seven million cattle.

Moreover, these hardy animals have the ability to withstand harsh climates. Despite their drawbacks—the shorthorn and longhorn breeds are not as productive as their European counterparts—their loss would be a major blow to the future of African livestock productivity. But they are among a wide variety of indigenous African livestock whose valuable genetic diversity is at risk of being lost.

“We have seen in the short-horn humpless breeds native to West and Central African indiscriminate slaughter and an inattention to careful breeding that has put them on a path to extinction,” said said Abdou Fall, leader of the livestock diversity project for West Africa at the International Livestock Research Institute.

Fall and other ILRI experts were at FARA’s 5th Annual Science Week where they were participating in discussions focused on the risks and opportunities relevant to Africa’s agricultural biodiversity.

“We must at the very least preserve these breeds either on the farm or in livestock genebanks because their genetic traits could be decisive in the fight against trypanosomiasis, while their hardiness could be enormously valuable to farmers trying to adapt to climate change,” he said.

Other African cattle breeds at risk include the Kuri cattle of southern Chad and northeastern Nigeria. The large bulbous-horned Kuri, in addition to being unfazed by insect bites, are excellent swimmers, having evolved in the Lake Chad region, and are ideally suited to wet conditions in very hot climates.

“What we see too often is an effort to improve livestock productivity on African farms by supplanting indigenous breeds with imported animals that over the long-term will prove a poor match for local conditions and require a level of attention that is simply too costly for most smallholder farmers,” said Carlos Seré, ILRI’s Director General. “What marginalized livestock-keeping communities need are investments in genetics and genomics that allow them to boost productivity with their African animals, which are best suited to their environments.”

Asking for too much but giving too little

Reflections by journalist Busani Bafana

Norman Borlaug, the 'Father of the Green Revolution" died with a broken heart that a Green Revolution had not reached Africa.

But, Borlaug’s work to improve agriculture around the world would not be a lost cause in Africa if farmers here had enough inputs to produce more and better food for all, something FARA has been challenged to take seriously.

"I give Monty Jones another 50 years and during that time I hope that a Green Revolution can take place,” Dr. Agnes Kalibata, Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources in Rwanda told participants at the 5th African Agriculture Science Week in Burkina Faso.

Dr. Kalibata said despite Africa having a strong cadre of key policy makers and scientists, farmers were still using poor quality seed and grappling with a shortage of inputs and limited information with which to help them produce more food. Yet in Asia, Borlaug’s Green Revolution was embraced with enthusiasm by farmers, scientists and policy makers simultaneously, something that has not yet occurred in Africa.

"What is on the ground is not funny because we are mistreating our farmers, we are asking them for too much and we are not giving them anything in return," Dr. Kalibata said.

Sub-Saharan Africa experiences up to 60 percent post-harvest crop losses, she said, which dent the farmers' capacity to earn extra income. Kalibata said this happens despite the continuous training of scientists who should be leading the adoption of better technologies and the use of improved seed.

FARAweek: Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore Opens General Assembly

The FARA General Assembly opened with President of Burkina Faso, H.E. Blaise Compaore, who said an intensive focus on improving agriculture production is key to putting the continent on a stable path to development.

“The challenge we face is how to make agriculture modern and productive. This will bring about an increase in food and strengthen our capacity to feed our people while remaining competitive in global markets,” he said.

He outlined three areas that should be given priority:
  • Agriculture intensification through adoptions of new techniques and technologies;
  • Processing products to increase value-chain opportunities; and
  • Fighting for competitiveness in world markets.
Compaore noted that “only a good and stable political environment can offer farmers the possibility to deploy” generate the wealth of advances emerging from the research establishment. And he accepted on behalf of the people of Burkina Faso the Foundation for Democracy’s in Africa’s Medal of Glory Award that honors “exemplary leaders for extraordinary contributions to economic, social, cultural and agricultural development and democracy in Africa."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Video: Making a Difference to the Milk Business in Kenya

In Kenya, Margaret Wambugu explains how Kenya's small scale milk vendors have improved handling and hygiene of milk, raised their profit margins and increased milk supplies to consumers at home or in milk bars. This progress in the milk supply chain contributes US$33 million annually to the Kenyan economy. The Smallholder Dairy Project has been supported by the UK Department for International Development (DFID).

Video: Voices of FARA

Video footage from earlier in the week shows Dr. Monty Jones, FARA’s Executive Director, opening the meeting by noting the series of crises that have jolted the world since the last FARA meeting in Johannesburg and highlighting the interconnected nature of the world today: the fuel crisis, the food price crisis, the economic and financial crisis, and the realization that climate change is upon us and its impacts more evident across the continent.

Comments from Dr. Lindiwe Sibanda, CEO of FANRPAN, and Ms. Lydia Sasu, a farmer from Ghana, follow.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Improved Cowpea “Selling Like Hotcakes”

Anyone doubting the desire among African farmers for improved seeds should look at what is happening with cowpea in Nigeria.

Cowpea is one of sub-Saharan Africa’s most valuable crops and the region accounts for 70 percent of world production. It’s nutritious, it does well in hot and dry conditions, and it has the added benefit of releasing nitrogen that can replenish depleted soils.

But the problem with cowpea is that it is preyed upon by pests and diseases. At the 5th FARA Science Week, Alpha Kamara, an agronomist with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, discussed IITA’s progress in developing pest and striga-resistant cowpea.

“We’ve released new varieties in Nigeria and the Niger Republic and they are selling like hotcakes,” he said. “Every farmer that has produced seeds has completely sold out.”

As part of a broader effort to promote and raise awareness of new cowpea varieties, IITA is co-hosting the Fifth World Cowpea Research Conference in Dakar with the government of Senegal. The conference will take place from 27 September to 1 October 2010.

Scientists will discuss key constraints to cowpea production, share progress being made in advancing cowpea genomics, and consider the best ways to unlock cowpea's potential as a hedge against climate change, hunger, and poverty. For more information, visit http://cowpea2010.iita.org/

African agriculture on the go

Busani Bafana, a journalist from Zimbabwe, reflects on day three of FARAweek.

African agriculture has a bright future, but sustained investments in innovation and technology adoption are critical to its success.

Generally speaking, things are getting better in Africa. The continent’s mobile phone revolution has transformed the speed and ways in which millions of Africans communicate and access information. African governments are investing in agriculture and innovation as part of a new effort drive the continent’s development. These are seen by many as positive developments. But the important task of actually improving farm productivity on the ground requires a radical paradigm shift.

"We need to change our mindset to one that exploits our strengths to address the problems we have,” noted Monty Jones, FARA Executive Director. “The world wants access to African markets. The world wants access to our land and natural resources. That is a big strength for Africa," said Dr. Monty Jones of FARA.

During a press briefing, representatives of FARA, the New Programme for Africa's Development (NEPAD) and the African Union Commission pointed to signs that African agriculture is moving in the right direction. Many African countries have notched 5 percent sustained growth. Several African countries are currently on track to meet the MDGs, with the exception of HIV/AIDS, which remains to be a challenge.

With 60 percent of the world’s remaining uncultivated land, Africa is in a unique position to become a key player in feeding the world. But first, Africa must focus on ensuring the fullness of her own belly. But low investments in infrastructure, market development and value addition, remain as tremendous obstacles to blooming Africa's agriculture.

Martin Bwalya of CAADP explained the importance of the initiative in driving the agriculture agenda in Africa. CAADP was designed to help African countries achieve six percent annual growth in agriculture by allocating at least 10 percent of their budgets for agricultural productivity. So far, only 19 of 53 countries have signed their CAADP compacts.

The CAADP agenda calls for a new way of doing business. It provides a frameword for us to scale up African successes. This includes ensuring that new technologies and innovations are reaching farmers.

Through their endorsement of the CAADP processes, African governments have demonstrated the political will to support the development of agriculture, what is left is transforming that will into programmes for innovation and technology adoption.

New CAADP Commitments Signals ‘Tipping Point’ for Africa’s Farm-led Development

Three more African countries are expected to sign on to NEPAD’s CAADP agenda in the next week, says Martin Bwalya, head of CAADP.

Burkina Faso will sign the commitment by the end of the week. Kenya and Côte d'Ivoire are expected to sign on to CAADP by the end of next week. “African countries are embracing the agenda. Attitudes are changing,” said Bwalya.

“Meeting the CAADP goals will require both political and technical drive,” said Boaz Keizire, the AU’s technical advisor and implementation specialist for CAAPD.

“We are engaging with researchers to learn more about innovations available and sharing this information with our political leaders,” he said. ”FARAweek is an important event for Africa. Communicating progress and engaging with research is critical to implementing the CAADP agenda.”

To date, 19 African countries have signed the CAADP compact.

Knowledge sharing: From the Rural Road to the Internet Superhighway

It's common knowledge that scientists, extension workers, and farmers have a hard time accessing and sharing information on the best ways to improve their productivity and protect their farm investments. With this in mind, e-RAILS and the Innovation Platform for Technology Adoption were set up to facilitate virtual and face to face interactions for knowledge sharing and spreading the word about new technologies.

At a FARAweek side event, over 50 participants shared their experiences with the two programs. Overall, participants highlighted their positive experiences using these platforms, but many felt there was a need for greater investment in strengthening the capacity of all stakeholders to utilize these tools. Suggestions included the expansion of facilities, particularly internet access to enhance the effective use and accessibility of these tools.

CAADP Day: Farmers, banks, policymakers and researchers to boost investments in African agriculture

Ouagadougou, 21 July 2010 – Close to 200 policymakers, Ministers, researchers, and representatives from farmers’ organizations, the media, the private sector, and development agencies are convening for the second annual Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) Day which is focused on the opportunities for the private sector in the implementation of CAADP.

The engagement under the theme, ‘Post-Compact CAADP Implementation: the African private sector and investments in agriculture,” which is hosted by the Government of Burkina Faso is organized by the Africa Union Commission, the NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency (NEPAD Agency) and the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA).

The event is being held within the context of the Africa Agriculture Science Week and the FARA General Assembly.

CAADP is a programme of the African Union’s (AU) New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). Under the guidance of the AU, the CAADP Day will provide the participants with an opportunity to engage each other on how to get the private sector in Africa to better support the work of farmers in Africa.

According to Martin Bwalya the Head of CAADP at the NEPAD Agency, “although African governments and development partners have increased their focus on agriculture in Africa evidence on the ground shows that in order for us to boost agricultural productivity in Africa we need to direct our attention to the access of finances for farmers in Africa”.

“This is why our focus this year is on how to get farmers and banking institutions in Africa to support each other in the implementation of the CAADP Agenda”, he added.

For more information contact:
Andrew Kanyegirire: AndrewK@nepad.org / +27 (0) 83 704 4506

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Everything You Know About African Agriculture is WRONG

African food production is declining, the landscape is blighted and efforts to bring about improvements are doomed to failure. So goes the cynical and one might say conventional view outside of Africa, to which Jules Pretty of the University of Essex responds to with one, emphatic word: WRONG!

“There is this assumption that African agriculture is not performing and it’ s just not true,” he said. “There are per capita problems in keeping food production in line with population growth, but there are regions where over the last few decades Africa has outperformed the world and particularly Europe.”

During his presentation at Forum for Agricultural Research for Africa (FARA) 5th African Agriculture Science Week, underway now in Burkina Faso, Pretty provided a revealing visual experiment.

He showed a slide that on one side had a satellite picture of a large swath of the African Sahel region depicting a landscape completely denuded of trees next to another showing a sparkle of green across the same area. He said the conventional view of Africa is so deeply imbedded in many people’s minds that they automatically assume the deforested area is the recent picture. But in fact it is the opposite.

The picture of deforestation is from 1975 while the other is from 2005 showing what he called the new “greenwall of the Sahel.”

Pretty said his point is that “there is a lot of good stuff happening” in Africa and while there are of course considerable challenges, there are in many regions a strong foundation for progress. But he said the measures of success often used do not always capture all accomplishments

For example, he presented the results of series of 40 projects in 20 countries involving 10 million farmers undertaken by the United Kingdom’s Foresight Africa program that targeted a range of agriculture activities. He said by the most common measure, yield increases, the overall performance of the projects is strong, with yields roughly doubling over the last few years.

“But that misses an awful lot of stuff,” he said. “If a project puts more fish in a fish pond, that’s not picked up by changes in cereal yields.” He also pointed to a project in Uganda focused on a new variety of orange-fleshed sweet potato that matures relatively quickly, allowing for two plantings per year. It doesn’t change the overall yield, Pretty said, but going from one to two plantings per year is major progress.

He said the important point is that across Africa, many efforts to innovate are “working well.”
“We want to replicate that kind of innovation and one can be fairly confident that is possible,” he said.

Linking Scientists with Advisory Services to “Stop Replicating Failure"

It is one of the most frustrating problems in the world of agriculture research. A seemingly perfect idea that works great in the laboratory or small-scale tests fails to perform on the average farm.

The problem, according to Max Olupot of the African Forum for Agricultural Advisory Services (AFAAS), is that many researchers do not consistently consult the people who every day are working with farmers to translate agriculture innovations into practical applications in the field: agriculture advisors and extension agents.

“Advisers and extension agents are the natural bridge between scientists and farmers and they should have a seat at the table when the research agenda is being developed,” said Olupot, who is based in Kampala, Uganda. “We know what is most likely to be effectively adopted by farmers and what isn’t so we can help ensure that researchers will stop replicating failure.”

Discussing the issue at the 5th African Agriculture Science Week and Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), now underway in Burkina Faso, Olupot said the good news is that this long-overdue linkage is starting to happen. He said FARA is using its networking capacity to build stronger relationships between its partners who are involved in research and AFAAS members.

“FARA is where we can build up farmer organizations, advisory organizations and scientific organizations so that we can all come together to deliver a strong research agenda,” he said.

He also said there are new efforts underway at the national level to create stronger ties between agriculture advisers and researches. Olupot noted that in Uganda there is a new initiative funded by the World Bank that links research endeavors with advisory services and will evaluate the results “of both of them together, not each in isolation,” he said.

Help shape emerging CGIAR Mega Program proposal on livestock and fish

Help shape emerging CGIAR Mega Program proposal on livestock and fish

The CGIAR is currently undergoing a major reform process. A central part of the reform will be the development of Mega Programs that will provide the framework for a new global research agenda. Four CGIAR Centers - ILRI, WorldFish, CIAT, and ICARDA – would like your input on a Mega Program aimed at sustainably improving the productivity of livestock and farmed fish by and for the poor. The CGIAR centers involved in the MP would like your help in improving the Mega Program concept.

To participate in an E-consultation on the proposed MP and offer your feedback, please visit: http://livestockfish.wordpress.com

IDRC celebrates 40 years of support to agriculture research in Africa

IRDC Looks to the Past as Springboard to Future

Since 1970 International Development Research Centre of Canada (IDRC) has supported research towards increasing agriculture productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa. IDRC discussed its cutting edge work in agriculture support at the side event at the 5th Agriculture Science Week FARA conference.

The IRDC affirmed its commitment to moving forward in the next decade to focus intently on food security with priority areas being: productivity improvement; value chains; commodity markets; food policy and territorial dynamics.

You need us, farmers tell researchers

African farmers want a greater say in research outputs they argue frequently sideline their efforts even though they have a wealth of indigenous knowledge to improve food security.

Busani Bafana reports.

"Small holder farmers in Africa are in their own right researchers," Abiel Banda, Vice President of the Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU), told a press briefing by farmer organisations at FARA's 5th African Science Week in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. "Where there is an identification of indigenous technology by farmers, researchers must recognise it; they need us as much as we need them."

Farmers have lamented the mismatch between their needs and the output of researchers because they are not treated as equal partners in the research activities and are not consulted prior to setting the research agenda. In addition, farmers themselves lack the capacity to undertake research independently as well as to effectively use the results. However, collaboration holds promise.

"As a result of spirited consultations, we are beginning to see research activities moving from research stations to the farmers' farms. Farmers now directly participate in the outputs as well as in the dissemination of those outputs," said Philip Kiriro, President of the Eastern Africa Farmers Federation (EAFF).

Bagna Djibo, the President of Reseau Des Organisations Paysannes Et Des Producteurs De L'Afrique DeL'Ouest, (ROPPA), felt that scientific research should be used to find solutions to food insecurity.

"We have to avoid producing raw materials without adding value to them, something which could transform agriculture and that is where researchers come in. There is need for a link between producers and researchers," said Djibo."We need the research to inform us about the technology we need to be competitive and to continue to put the food on the table."

Lydia Sasu, from the Development Action Association (DAA) in Ghana and an executive member of ROPPA, said women farmers were key in agriculture innovation and research.

"We have learnt that if researchers do not come to us, women go to the researchers. They know us because they need us," Sasu said.

Innovation, key to food security

Busani Bafana reports.

Forget the linear system of promoting technologies in agriculture; Africa needs inclusive methods that will speed up the adoption of new technologies by poor farmers, say experts.

"The linear approach has not helped Africa," says FARA executive director, Dr. Monty Jones. "Adoption of technologies is only about 10 percent but where we have implemented the innovations system approach which brings everyone together, we have seen the rate of adoption shoot up from 10 to 90 percent."

Bemoaning past linear patterns of promoting innovations and technologies as being effective, Dr. Jones said Africa had credible technologies but these had not made the desired impact due to poor implementation approaches. Africa has made a breakthrough in technologies, such as the tissue culture banana, which has out yielded the traditional banana by up to 50 percent raising farmer incomes. The New Rice for Africa (NERICA) has doubled yields of previously known varieties, while striga resistant maize has boosted grain yields in some parts of Africa. In Burkina Faso, Bt cotton is being promoted to increase income for farmers.

"One of the problems we have faced in Africa is the dissemination of these technologies either because we have not determined appropriate pathways to disseminate those technologies or we do not have the skilled manpower to do that," Jones told a press briefing on the opening day of the 5th Agriculture Science Week in Ouagadougou. "Innovation will increase productivity enabling us to get closer to the six percent agricultural production that has been predicted as the level we must attain by the year 2015."

CTA director, Michael Hailu, said the innovation approach seeks to promote existing knowledge within different stakeholders who then come together to use the knowledge and put into practise.

"The linear approach assumes that researchers will come up with their own ideas of what is needed and work on the technologies without considering what farmers need, said Dr. Hailu adding that, "The whole key is create a space so that everyone has a voice in the process of technology development and dissemination."

The six-day African Agriculture Science Week and FARA General Assembly are expected to produce action plans to develop agriculture in Africa. Low investment in research and development has been singled as a factor stifling the agricultural productivity as well as the adoption of innovation and technology. FARA research has found that Africa is investing about $2.2 billion in research and development efforts, a far cry from the $4 billion needed to increase agricultural output.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Using research to make the case for policy change

Using research to make the case for policy change

Scientists need to do a better job at drawing out findings from peer-reviewed research to support evidence-based policies and approaches, said a panel of leading policy experts and researchers at the FARAweek side event Climate Change and Agriculture: the Policy Challenge.

“The challenge is to turn excellent peer-reviewed science into evidence, so that we don’t rely on system of belief,” said David Howlett of Africa College at University of Leeds. “How do we know that organic agriculture can feed the world? We have to communicate beyond peer-review system in order to have an impact on the public’s understanding of the issues.”

As part of the panel, Carlos Sere of ILRI, highlighted two areas where research from his institution had been used to influence. One example, Dr Sere noted that findings from a 2007 ILRI study mapping climate vulnerability in Africa had been widely cited and used in the influential publications like the Stern Review and the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report.

In the future, we’ll be going into more detail to figure out what kind of interventions would work best locally. This would evidence could help inform policy decisions on the local and national level, he added.

"It is critical that we use research evidence emanating from Africa to improve our productivity and adapt to climate change,” Lindiwe Sibanda of FANRPAN. “We have to have benchmarks for our farmers. For them to raise their productivity, they need to know nature of the problem they are facing and the best way to address them."

The Stove-top Pot Emerges as New Weapon to Protect Crop Diversity

By Matthew Davis

As Director General of Bioversity International, Emile Frison is a tireless advocate of the need to preserve Africa’s rich array of crop varieties both in the field and in national and international crop genebanks.

But at the 5th Annual African Agriculture Science Week and Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa, now underway in Ouagadougou, Frisson said the campaign needs to move into the kitchen as well.

He said part of the loss of crop varieties is attributable to a more narrow selection of foods appearing on many African dinner tables, and that one way to maintain crop diversity is to rekindle an interest in a wider array of traditional foods, particularly among women who do the majority of cooking.

“They are the ones you want to target because they will choose what goes into the cooking pot and on the table,” he said.

Frison said the fight to protect crop diversity needs to enter the “nutritional domain.” He said the “simplification” of the diet in many African regions, its focus on a smaller set of food crops, is linked to a rise in diet-related afflictions across the region such as heart disease and type-2 diabetes. But Frison said there is a natural link between policies that seek to improve nutrition and policies that seek to encourage wider cultivation of native African crops, such as traditional, healthy varieties of leafy green vegetables.

He pointed to a partnership in Kenya with a major supermarket chain, which agreed to carry locally-grown greens and saw sales of the vegetable increase by 1100 percent in just two years.

He said the success of the program shows that it is possible to push against the negative stigma increasingly associated with native foods and use nutrition as a force to “re-diversify" African agriculture.

Making a buzz about biodiversity

By Susanna Thorp, Wrenmedia

Bees pollinate three-quarters of the world’s crops. The production value of insect pollinated crops is four times those that are not. And yet very little recognition is given to their role, according Kwame Aidoo, a scientist at the University of Cape Coast in Ghana during a presentation on the significance of pollinator biodiversity on the opening day of FARAweek.

Pollination gives better quality, better production, but habitat destruction and degradation is putting Africa’s pollinators at risk, said Aidoo. “Reliance on national parks is not sufficient to preserve bee diversity; land use practises must enhance conservation of pollinators,” he said.

According to Aidoo, a systematic assessment of the decline in crop yields due to the absence of pollinators and the development of participatory methods to assist farmers in collecting data on pollinators are needed.

“We also need more information on the effects of pesticide concentrations on social and solitary bees and we need identification of habitat management practices to best build up pollinator populations,” he added.

“There are strong expectations that intensifying agricultural production in Africa will address issues of hunger and poverty. However, we need to grasp the opportunity to build on and enhance the natural wealth of Africa’s ecosystems. Pollination serves as an excellent flagship area of R & D for Africa,” Aidoo told participants.

Prevention is the Cure to Africa’s Fight Against Plant Pests

When it comes to suffering losses to plant pests and weeds, Sub-Saharan Africa leads the world and by a large margin. Damage to crops in the region is 40 to 60 percent higher than anywhere else on the planet, with most of the problem—which cost farmers millions of dollars— caused insects, bacteria, aphids, virus and fungi.

Disease experts meeting at the 5th Annual African Agriculture Science Week and Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa said its time to make the region less inviting to these crop killers by focusing on prevention.

“The signature of a developed agriculture system is one characterized by its emphasis on prevention and not reaction” said Julian Smith of the Food Environment Research Agency in the United Kingdom, which is working with partners in Africa to stop pests moving so quickly to epidemic proportions.

Smith and other experts said pests are particularly a threat to realizing the potential of new, high-yield crop varieties being developed for Africa. But as these new crops become available they need to be protected from pests. For example, plant breeders recently waited to distribute new varieties of cassava until they had been screened for the brown-streak disease that has emerged as a major threat to cassava production in East Africa.

Conversely, several years ago due to a failure to understand disease threats, promising new banana varieties were released to farmers and subsequently succumbed to a banana wilt disease.
Disease experts at the meeting agreed that it’s time to move away from an approach focused on fighting diseases when they emerge to better monitoring and surveillance systems that can contain outbreaks and give new, improved crops the maximum opportunity to realize their potential to boost yields in Africa.

FARAweek Opens: Sharing a Common Vision

The 5th Annual African Agriculture Science Week and Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa is underway in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, attracting over 700 prominent agriculture researchers, policy makers, and development experts from around the world .

Dr. Monty Jones, FARA’s Executive Director, opened the meeting by noting the series of crises that have jolted the world since the last FARA meeting in Johannesburg: the fuel crisis, the food price crisis, the economic and financial crisis, and the realization that climate change is upon us and its impacts more evident across the continent.

Fostering resilience in an interconnected world
Even the volcanic ash from Iceland has made its presence felt in Africa, Jones said, disrupting the horticulture industry in Kenya and Ethiopia. What all of these impact show us, said Dr. Jones, is that in Africa, “We are bound to be affected by events that we are remotely responsible for.”

But in the face of so many and various challenges, Dr. Jones said African countries have responded with resilience, and he welcomed indications that the continent is “climbing back.”

“Africa has demonstrated resilience during this crisis,” said Jones.

“Emerging evidence shows that half of African countries are on track to meet the UN Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty by 2015,” he said.

If there is a blessing to be found in all the turbulence of the past few years, Dr. Jones said, it is that crisis spurs innovation,. “This explains the rationale behind the theme of this African Science Week and FARA General Assembly, that is African Agricultural Innovation in a Changing Global Environment.”

Dr. Jones said the next two days will feature an Open Space, a welcome opportunity for intensive discussions dedicated to the week’s theme. They will include discussions of securing strong investments in agriculture innovation in the post-financial crisis era, building knowledge networks to cope with the challenges of globalization and climate change, and the resilience of African agricultural trade to domestic and external shocks. He said the main recommendations from this forum a will be fed into the FARA General Assembly for endorsement and consideration as part of the African Agriculture for Development agenda.

Dr. Jones said that he looked forward to a series of exchanges that will focus on a “common vision of seeing Africa realize the full potential of its agriculture to achieve a food secure and improve the livelihood of all its people.”

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Africa's biggest assembly of farm experts meet in Ouagadougou

(photo credit: Neil Palmer (CIAT)

Over 700 prominent agriculture researchers, policy makers, and development experts from around the world along with the President of Burkina Faso and ministers of Agriculture, Science and Foreign Affairs from several African and European countries are gathering 19-24 July in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso for the 5th African Agriculture Science week and General Assembly of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA).

FARA Week (www.faraweek.org) comes amid widespread recognition that investments in agriculture research must increase significantly and the fruits of this work must reach the fields more quickly to provide African farmers with the innovations they need to feed the continent’s rapidly growing population. The gathering also occurs at the same time African leaders will be in Kampala, Uganda at a summit of the African Union, which is focused on maternal, infant, and child health and development.

“The links between these two incredibly important meetings could not be clearer because nothing is more vital to maternal and child health than the food that is produced on Africa’s farms and the income agriculture provides to lift our people out of poverty,” said World Food Prize Winner and executive secretary of FARA, Monty Jones.

Among those participating in the African Agricultural Science Week and General Assembly are:
  • H.E. Blaise Compaore, President of Burkina Faso
  • Ministers of Agriculture, Science, Technology, International Cooperation and Foreign Affairs from Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, France, Germany, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sierra-Leone, Uganda, and Togo, who will hold a press-moderated ministerial roundtable.
  • Monty Jones, Executive Secretary, FARA
  • Denis Kyetere, Director General, National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), Uganda, Chairman of the Executive Board, FARA
  • Namanga Ngongi, President, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)
  • Ibrahim Mayaki, CEO of the African Union’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD)
Key issues to be discussed at the FARA meeting include:
  • Increasing and sustaining public and private sector investments in African agriculture in the wake of the global financial crisis;
  • Delivering innovations and building capacity at the local level that will enable farmers to adapt to the challenges posed by globalization and climate change;
  • Assessing the resilience of African agriculture trade to domestic and external shocks that include: protectionism and subsidies, the short and long-term trade-offs between biofuel production and food security, and access to agriculture commodity markets; and
  • Embracing importance of biodiversity to African environmental and agriculture health in addition to social and economic development.
There also will be a week-long exhibition featuring dynamic array of agriculture innovations from inside and outside of Africa that provide new insights into such challenges as pests and plant diseases, bioenergy production in Africa, maintaining Africa’s agriculture biodiversity, climate change, and regional integration.

In addition, there will be a range of discussions organized by FARA constituents on a number of compelling topics, including efforts in Africa to develop the capacity and expertise required to conduct regulatory assessments of agriculture biotechnology, and the role of the public and private sector in driving innovations on African farms.

For more information, please visit: http://www.faraweek.org/