WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? PARTICIPANTS’ TAKE:

e-Forum on Contribution of Agricultural research and innovation in mitigating the impact of COVID-19 in Africa

The first regional and continental e-forum on the contribution of agricultural research and innovation to mitigating the impact of COVID-19 in Africa, was hosted by the implementing institutions of the CAAD XP4 programme, on the 20th of May 2020. The webinar was attended by over 120 participants drawn from research/academia, policy/government, non-government, civil society and private sector organizations in Africa, Europe, America and Asia. The CAADP XP4 programme is funded by the European Union and administered by the International Fund for Agricultural Development, IFAD.

The e-forum which was followed immediately by online DGroup discussions, flowing from the concerns, contributions and questions raised by participants and discussants, elicited some good inputs which are being collated and synthesized by the CAAD XP4 team, to be incorporated into the COVID-19 Issues Response paper, which will provide the roadmap for regional and continental bodies to fully address the impact of COVID-19 on the Africa’s food system.

 

Read below some of the comments/questions, and contributions/responses from both participants and discussants in the webinar…

 

I am contributing on Discussion Point 1: Positioning Africa’s Extension Models to Combat COVID-19.
Many of our agricultural extension models are based in ministries of agriculture while the research institutes that generate the needed knowledge/technologies are based in ministries in charge of science and technology. Mechanisms set up to enable cooperation/collaboration have simply failed probably because of disagreements over who should manage the funds provided.
The potentially more effective institutional mechanism to improve the situation is what I found in Rwanda while on a FARA assignment. For knowledge generation and dissemination/use, the research component and the extension/use component were in the same ministry. The process of knowledge generation/production was shared right from the problem identification.
phase. The Rwanda case resembles the land grant case of the USA. I think for Africa models of extension to enable food security during and post COVID 19, the models must be made to avoid heavy bureaucracy and fights over money.

——David A. Mbah, PhD, Chief Research Officer/Directeur de Recherche, Executive Secretary, Cameroon Academy of Sciences, – Cameroon

I would like to contribute to Discussion Point 2 on the above-mentioned subject matter. Developing a sustainable seed system required to boost productivity in the cassava value chain, where I am deeply involved, cannot be overemphasized.

The Ghana Cassava Centre of Excellence has established Cassava Productivity Project recently. The goal of this project is to support producers to increase their yields beyond the national average of 18 metric tons per hectare as well as enhancing their incomes and profitability through proper linkage with the off-takers (e.g. processors).

To that end we have established multiplication farms across the project pilot regions. 

In the short to medium term, supporting certified cassava seed growers across the major producing regions in Ghana will be surest bet to increase small producers’ access to improved planting materials that can guarantee productivity.

As a strategic partner of FARA, we are ready to support seed systems development to fast-track Cassava Commercialization that will support industry in the long run.

——William Agyei-Manu, Executive Director, Ghana Cassava Centre of Excellence, – Ghana

For me the three (3) points are interesting and useful.

Point one: “Technology transfer is pertinent to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on agricultural production. How we position the Africa extension models to rapidly respond to this challenge?”

We need ITC tools for more efficiency that’s why the point 3 also must be taken into account: “Will the innovative ICT based approaches be relevant in delivering the solutions? If yes how do we leverage the known approaches to collate known technologies and deliver solutions to the end users.”

Extension services have to work with Research structures to get a list of useful and adapted technologies for quick transfer.

——–Dr.  E.H Traore Directeur Scientifique, ISRA

On Discussion Point 2, I would suggest the following:

  1. Africa has a huge collection of innovations and technologies in its NARIs, Universities and CG centers. Unfortunately, there has been limited large scale dissemination to our farmers and processors. The result is the poor adoption levels of just 38% in Africa compared to 60 to 80% in Asia and Latin America. So, productivity remains low and we have to import food. I think the first thing to do is to get these technologies to the people and raise productivity. I am always reading about billions being spent on food imports, appeals for food aid etc. I wish we could spend just 30 to 40% of these monies in dissemination- seed systems. 
  2. An interesting piece of research results is the role of zinc in inhibiting replication of COVID-19. This was documented more than 10 years ago (Aart Velthuis et al, 2010) and more recently in a review by Gupta et al (2019). We have been working on zinc and iron rich beans for the last 18 years. We have varieties with double the amount of zinc compared with ordinary beans. They combine superior nutritional quality with high productivity and resistance to major biotic and abiotic stresses. They have been validated in some countries and officially released for production. Can these zinc-rich beans contribute to the fight against this pandemic?

———-Paul Kimani, Dept of Plant Science and Crop Protection, University of Nairobi

 

Hi, my contribution is on Point 2:

There should be ways by which farmers will be supported through production of both annual, and perennial crops and tree plantations such as provision of seed input of hybrid Maize, Cowpea, Groundnut, Millet, Oat, Turmeric, Jatropha, Castor Oil, Gmellina, Sheabutter, Locust bean among others that can lead the country into economic emancipation.

This cannot be achieved without mass appointment and training of extension agents that will collate various commodity groups and put farmers in the right direction.

——

A visualization must be made that the virus will persist for years to come. This is my contributions to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on agricultural productivity. The average limits of the consumption pattern of food for humans should be studied in all African countries. Plans are made to produce food for each country according to the rate of population growth and try to reach sufficiency. Supporting agricultural plans for implementation under import stopping conditions. Make a plan to exchange the necessary needs between the neighboring countries of the continent.

——-Prof. Tarek Fouda, Head Agricultural Engineering Department, Tanta university, Egypt 

When it comes to the issue of technology transfer, there is a perception of technical advice for agriculture exclusively as a public service, but it is never possible to make it present and constant for all producers. In some countries, what makes the difference for a small group of successful rural producers is that they, individually or in association, take the technical advice (diagnosis of their socio-economic and agroecological situation, message transmission, relationship building, farming techniques, marketing and processing information, operational management, community development) as an investment, which is essential for the success of the business as are the inputs and modern machinery. Thus, the rural producer will be prepared and to advance in his projects, without being discontinued by possible difficulties such as COVI 19.

——–Antonio Fortes – Cabo Verde

My contributions are;

Point 1: Technology transfer is good and key to mitigate COVID-19 effects. In my own view, the best option is to work with Agric-tech platforms that have existing farm representatives or project supervisors. In this case, new technology reaches farmers faster, in their local languages.

Point 2: The agric-tech platforms should not focus only on production, some should be off-takers while some should fix into processing and marketing. Option is to build value in the crop chain line.

Point 3: Still agric-tech platforms, a well-developed structure should be in place, where message leaves agric-tech representatives through app or website straight to the main server or database.

 

———Elebiyo, Monday Gbadebo, Leadway Field Agriculturist and Operations Officer- Nigeria

 

I try to put my contributions to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on agricultural production as follows:

Discussion Point 1: Researchers should emphasize their work on one side crops with nutritive values, high yield and quick production and at another side on small animals that can produce quickly and contribute to hence production by integrate manure in cropping system.

Discussion Point 2: On overview of research outputs done in each country should determine the best bet technologies that can be experienced with good results in short time.

Discussion Point 3: The collaboration between ICT, Extension services and the end users should be smooth, effectiveness, practice.

———Katunga Musale MD

One can observe that the challenges we are debating about are not necessarily new to the African agricultural system, but rather worsen existing challenges due to COVID-19. This situation together with existing evidence suggest that there are persistent structural challenges in the Continent that need to be addressed by regional policy reform among top interventions.

—– Lavhelesani R Managa

 

Dear Colleagues,

I want to commend FARA for this good initiative. I want to contribute to the discussions as follows:

Discussion Point1.

The fact is that since the days of the structural adjustment programs of the Bretton Woods Institutions, there has not been much priority given to agriculture extension in most African countries. The adjustment policies required the downsizing of public institutions and services. Extension and advisory services became the victim. In as much as we want to develop new extension models in the light of the COVID19 pandemic, it is important that our Governments strengthen the extension services by having proper policies and strategies, provide investment for an extension, develop human capacity and provide logistic support.  African extension services must embrace the opportunities available in ICT/ new media. The Training and Visit system of extension of the 1960s and 70s are no longer relevant to our existing realities. There are so many new and emerging issues which must be addressed by the extension services. These include climate change, land resource management, value chain approach to agriculture development, agriculture as a business and the issues of nutrition and food safety amongst others. To enable the extension to have an impact in our agriculture system, there is the need to develop linkages with both formal and informal research systems especially as we experience the deadly pandemic. Any extension model must take into consideration the prevailing conditions of the smallholder African farmer who operates under a resource-poor condition.  The farmer should not be at the receiving end of the extension services. The farmer should be at the center and be the driver of any extension services. This would require massive re-training of both extension staff and farmers alike. Do we need to maintain the monovalent extension worker? The answer is NO. We must have more polyvalent extension advisers who are practical in their approach. He should be an adviser, problem solver and innovator. Extension models within the context of covid-19 should also take into consideration the gender dimensions and issues of agriculture. The women, youth and vulnerable groups should be part of any effort at revamping agricultural extension systems in our countries. Their needs are specific and require specific responses. My parting comment is that we need to, as a continent, revamp our extension services by investing in a big way in policy and regulations, human resources, technology, logistic and knowledge management systems.

Discussion Point 2.

The issue of technology to address post-harvest loss cannot be over-emphasized. It is important that in a time of a pandemic the availability of food is most important. The reduction of post-harvest losses can help in increasing the food stock at the family, community or national levels. To accomplish this objective, it is important that we identify post-harvest technologies that can be used by farmers at an affordable cost. At a time like this, it will be good to target relevant technologies and transfer to the farmers using innovative extension systems. The WAAPP programme of ECOWAS that was implemented by CORAF was able to generate a number of post-harvest technology in a number of value chains. In the short term we must invest in technology transfer and dissemination using e-extension strategies.

For the seeds systems, we must start to develop the informal seed system in order to address the needs of the majority of farmers who rely on farm-saved seeds for most of the time. How do we broaden the net to ensure that more farmers benefit from the benefits of seed technology by accessing high quality seeds? Seeds are also scaled neutral. We will need to address the issues of inputs availability, access and affordability. The quality of seeds to a large extent determines the level of production and productivity assuming all other factors of production are in place. To achieve all the objectives in Discussion point 2, we must develop an emergency response plan for the agricultural value chain which will have to rely to a greater extent on local resources as most countries have closed their national borders and are in a lock down mode at the moment. If adequate arrangements are not made for the current cropping season, it will affect the food security situation in 2020/2021.

For the Covid-19 period, we need to start to focus on short duration crops with high nutritional values in order to ward off hunger and malnutrition. My parting comment will be to revitalize our existing seed systems, invest in cost effective post-harvest technologies and in the long run, build research capacities for innovation and development.

———Ernest Aubee, ECOWAS Commission

 

Discussion Point 3:

Will innovative ICT based approaches be relevant in delivering the solutions? If yes how do we leverage the known approaches to collate known technologies and deliver solutions to the end-users?

 

Discussion Point 1 and 3:

To position the African extension and advisory services (EAS) systems to rapidly respond to the challenges posed by the pandemic, it is probably wise to go away from the technology transfer model which proved little successful in the past and is likely to prove even less so in the situation of an unprecedented and dynamic crisis which requires innovative and quick solutions.

 

EAS systems should rapidly adapt to this new situation but also be profoundly transformed to be able to absorb and to better respond to future crisis. They should become more flexible and demand-driven since technologies detached from the reality on the ground fail in the situation when the reality cannot be predicted. Hence not only unidirectional technology transfer but a continuous dialogue with rural producers as well as other actors in the agriculture value chains, co-learning and co-creation rather than dissemination. Moreover, in recent decades, EAS providers have become increasingly pluralistic and diversified and have embraced a wide range of services beyond production-oriented technology transfer. It is key to take advantage of this pluralism as different actors have different strengths, can reach to different groups of producers, and bring in new networks (related to micro-credit, inputs, social services). This is essential for a good functioning of EAS but becomes even more important in the situation when, due to the lockdown, many EAS providers cannot reach their clients. Clearly, for such a pluralism to work well, a coordination and collaborative approach are of utmost importance.

 

Another key aspect is digital: it allows people to get information in real time, be in touch with peers and partners when mobility restriction is on, commercialize produce and even get advice on pests and other issues. However, EAS systems are still learning how to use digital smartly. Fancy technologies will not work where producers cannot access electricity and Internet, are not literate, or the content is ill-adapted. Hence, EAS need a new set of skills to deliver effectively through digital without excluding vulnerable groups. Similarly, also producers need digital literacy. Infrastructure is also key to enhance smallholders’ access to digital technologies. While all this takes time, during the current crisis it is important that EAS actors take advantage of simple technologies already in use (SMS, radio, social media etc.) and learn from each other how to use them best.

 

Aspects to consider are too numerous to be addressed here, but one more thing deserves a special attention: funding. Countries hit by the economic crisis resulting from the pandemic may struggle to fund public services, even if the agricultural sector is often considered as a priority. Similarly, many donors funding NGOs, public sector extension and producer organizing can also switch their priorities to emergency response. EAS organizations should this be prepared to rethink its funding modalities, be it through advocacy to show the relevance of their services to the crisis, alternative and diversified funding sources, partnerships, etc.

 

 Discussion Point 2:

Targeting the available technologies to the pointed issues of postharvest losses, seed systems, processing, storage and the likely nutritional and health implications of shortage. How do we accomplish this in the short run?

 

Discussion Point 2

There are many technologies and practices that can be suitable to address issues related to the lockdown, disrupted supply chains and markets. Many of them rely on the ‘’local’’: use of locally available inputs, varieties and seeds, community seed banks, home/garden production, as well as local neglected and underutilized species (important for household food security and nutrition), simple ways of storing and processing, smart transport arrangements etc. to avoid food losses and that can be implemented at low cost with commonly available materials.

 

Such a ‘’local’’ approach and shorter supply chains are key in the context of the generalized mobility restrictions and market and supplies instability but require a new set of skills for extension and advisory services (EAS) providers. Some of the skills and knowledge relevant to local production can be acquired quite easily but no single organization can provide all needed support to rural producers. Hence, a new way of working is needed: services providers need to become more flexible and facilitate interactions among producers, actors in value chains and research. This includes engaging with local formal and informal companies and networks (e.g. small local inputs vendors), including non-agricultural actors, e.g. transport companies etc.

 

—–Zofia Mroczek – FAO

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