Research: Key to Addressing Food Security in Africa

There is need for an accelerated investment in agricultural revolution that allows development of innovative technologies and practices in Africa through tested research to guarantee nutrition, food security, job creation and poverty reduction in a sustainable manner.

Over 80% of the rural population in Africa either directly or indirectly derive their livelihood from agriculture, yet one person in every four still goes hungry in the continent! The matter is further compounded by a population that is increasing rapidly and is projected to hit 1.7 billion people by 2030. Even more complex is the unpredictable climate change that is negatively affecting outcomes in the agriculture sector.

In 2015, world leaders adopted a new set of bold and transformative development priorities christened as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and touted as the salvation towards universal, holistic and measurable development outcomes around the world. From the seventeen goals adopted, goal number two seeks to address the challenge of food insecurity and malnutrition. Specifically, it calls for an end to hunger, achievement of food security and improved nutrition, as well as promoting sustainable Agriculture. It is backed by eight key indicators of success.

Dr Njaci sampling pigeonpea leaves for molecular analysis.

Researchers have intimated that agriculture is the common thread that holds all the other 17 SDGs and that investing in it will not only address hunger and malnutrition, but also respond to other challenges including poverty, climate change, water and energy use, quality education and gender equality, leading to the overall success of the other goals. In essence, the key to making African countries more food secure and improve the competitiveness of agriculture in relation to non-agricultural activities, lies in developing technologies that increase the quantity and quality of outputs. However, existing technology and knowledge in our beloved continent inhibits the required developments in food production to meet the needs of a growing population in Africa.

Recognizing the need to address this reality, Australia - home to some of the world’s leading agricultural research centres with decades of expertise - has invested in the research and adoption of new technologies that address food availability, access and nutrition-related challenges for poor rural farmers. Further, Australia continues to provide African professionals with an opportunity to gain advanced training through Masters and Short Course scholarships under the prestigious Australia Awards - Africa program; a testament to Australia’s belief in Africa’s potential to respond to her needs when her citizens are better equipped with the requisite skills.

Dr Njaci working in the lab.

On 29 March, 2017, the University of Sydney in partnership with the University of Nairobi, under the auspices of the Australia Awards - Africa program, organized a workshop aimed at showcasing Australia Awards Alumni success stories post-training in agriculture and food security. The half-day forum brought together 13 Alumni in the agriculture Sector (PhD, Masters and Short Course) based in Kenya, 23 Awardees participating in the Increasing Development Impact of Agricultural Research (IDIAR) 2016 Short Course and agricultural academics presenting in the program from Australia and Kenya. The forum was also aimed at highlighting to Awardees the opportunities (and challenges) in reintegrating post-Award and identifying opportunities for increased collaborations between Australia Awards Alumni working in the agricultural productivity sector.

IDIAR Short Course participant, Ramson Adombilla who works as a Research Scientist in Soil and Water Agronomy with the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Ghana, lauded the program terming it as practical and well-paced. He says, “The blend between theoretical principles in class and practical field visits deepened our understanding. I was also fascinated by the integration of gender, and youth issues in the training. It shows that every actor has a contribution to make in enhancing agricultural productivity. I hope to use the negotiation skills I gained from the course to generate buy-in while implementing my work-plan on return that seeks to improve local irrigation systems used by onion farmers in my region.”

Notably, many other initiatives have stemmed up from strategic alliances by alumni in the Agriculture sector. For instance, alumni who met on the IDIAR Short Course delivered in October 2016, formed a collaborative cross-continental team that won a grant by the Partnership Research and Development Fund (PRDF) to deliver on a food and nutrition security project. The project dubbed “Minimizing Waste Through Value Addition and Preservation of Fresh produce in Nigeria and Kenya” hopes to engage small-holder famers to create stakeholder-based solutions to reduce post-harvest losses of tomato and mangoes, in Nigeria and Kenya respectively.

Another alumnus – Pamela Levira (Tanzania) – was invited as a speaker at the Indigenous Knowledge and Climate Change conference held in Marrakech, Morocco in October 2016 where she shared evidence generated through her community project, funded under the Australia Awards Alumni Small Grants Scheme. The presentation titled “Harnessing local indigenous knowledge and practices for climate change mitigation and adaptation of Agrarian communities in Tanzania” explored the need to document the knowledge of indigenous communities for adapting to climate change.

Currently, the Australia Awards - Africa program boasts of over 850 Alumni from 43 African countries that are contributing to food security and sustainability. The Australia Government through various other initiatives continues to provide technology exchange and support for African professionals. Two such initiatives are the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) that supports agricultural productivity projects focusing on increasing agricultural productivity through farming systems intensification, diversification and improved market access; and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) that partners with institutions in Africa to strengthen the capacity of the researchers and of African scientists in using modern biosciences for food and nutritional security, provide funding that enables researchers to undertake cutting edge research and create enabling environments for agricultural innovation by working with private and public organisations local communities. This assistance advances Australia’s interest in supporting investments that boost agriculture and improve the functioning of markets and agricultural value chains. It also aligns with the African Union’s Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Program, which is an African owned and led initiative to boost agricultural productivity.

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