Africa’s growth requires increased investments in skills and capacity for sustainable development in agriculture. In this report, DANIEL ESSIET examines how innovative research and capacity building could help Africa respond to the challenges of food security and climate change.
The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has forecast that global food production will need to be increased by 70 per cent to meet the growing population expected to hit 9.1 billion by 2050.
Executive Director, the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), Dr. Yemi Akinbamijo, based in Ghana, is one of those pushing for greater deployment of bio-scientists to address food security to ensure that Nigeria and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa grew enough to feed future generations. He has been pushing this with bio-scientists working in crop and livestock industries.
The Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), in partnership with West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI), has canvassed the need for crop improvement and seed sector development in Africa to increase productivity.
To provide enough food for Africa, with very limited natural resources, AGRA wants research institutions to breed crops that can help farmers get the highest yield of production. This has led also to the development of crops that are pest and disease resistant as well as drought-tolerant.
When agro and food firms want to produce top-grade cereals, an Imo State University-based crop expert, Prof Martins Onuh, urged that they should join hands with researchers.
Such partnerships, according to him, would deliver new varieties with higher yields.
Top agro firms seeking higher yields from cassava turn to the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) for support and collaboration.
This year, Nigeria Agribusiness Group, NABG, and IITA resolved to partner on research solutions and technology to boost agribusiness.
NABG President Emmanuel Ijewere, who confirmed this, said: “The essence of the partnership is whatever is good should not be kept in the drawer or in secret. It must be brought out to people to improve their lives, and IITA has been in Nigeria for many years and has done many research that have improved the agricultural space and have so many potential, but, unfortunately, those who are supposed to benefit from it, don’t know so much about it because the more you the more you ask.
“NABG, being a private sector organisation, we ran to our brothers in IITA, saying, ‘those things you have discovered over the years, ‘tell us about them let us see how we can make money from it’. Working with them closely, we intend to translate what the research has produced.”
Institutions such as IITA provide professionals with diverse backgrounds and expertise in food production, such as bio-scientists, who work with farmers, academics and experts to find more opportunities in the food production system.
Bio-sciences describe several biology-related disciplines such as agriculture, biochemistry, biotechnology, medicine and genomics engaged in real scientific advancement.
More farmers have benefited from IITA‘s works, thanks to its significant investment in bio-sciences research. Its experts have earned international recognition for their roles in developing new technologies, used around the world.
The institute has continued to support cutting-edge research and innovation, future researchers, and demonstrate the relevance and value of bio-sciences in delivering significant economic benefits for the agricultural sector.
The IITA–CGIAR Bio-science Centre held training on basic molecular biology techniques for Master’s and doctorate students from various African universities at the IITA, Ibadan campus. This year’s workshop accommodated 16 students. They were trained by nine IITA Bio-science staff, including Director of IITA West Africa Hub and Head of Bioscience Centre, Michael Abberton, and Bio-science Laboratory Manager Yemi Fajire.
As part of its commitment to supporting agricultural innovations in the country, the Foreign Agricultural Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) entered into a partnership with Iowa State University (ISU) to train 10 Nigerian scientists and regulators. This is aimed at strengthening bilateral ties between the United States and Nigeria and assisting policymakers, researchers, and technical experts to understand the role of modern biotechnology in agricultural innovation.
Also, the Kenya-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) is training bio-scientists. Its Director-General, Jimmy Smith, pointed out that the continent had enormous opportunities to transform itself by mobilizing bio-sciences. ILRI’s Bio-sciences eastern and central Africa Hub (BecA-ILRI) in Kenya aims at strengthening African research capacity building in agriculture, knowledge and innovation systems to achieve food and nutrition security, and increase research in crop improvement, and livestock productivity, food safety, climate change mitigation and sustainable environmental management.
Mohammed VI Polytechnic University, Morroco through training is developing bio-sciences researchers to develop sustainable solutions to promote agriculture. The collaboration with leading universities in agro-bio-sciences provides access and transfer of solutions for farmers and ranchers.
Swiss agribusiness Syngenta has been addressing Nigeria’s food insecurity by fuelling innovation among experts and applying advanced analytics in biochemistry and agriculture.
The Centre for Agriculture and Bio-sciences International (CABI)-led a research prioritised 120 potential Invasive Alien Species (IAS) that could pose a threat to agriculture and biodiversity in Kenya.
Since the research was conducted in 2018, four pest species have been found to be in Kenya. These are two arthropods (red gum lerp psyllid and the spotted wing drosophila) and two pathogenic organisms (the bacterial species, P. parmentieri and the viroid, potato spindle tuber viroid).
Pests being managed include the fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) – where an AgBiTech/CABI partnership under the Action on Invasives programme in Kenya and South Sudan has seen the baculovirus product Fawligen prove effective against the pests.
The centre has brought global attention to the use of eco-friendly and cost-effective bio-control options.
Agricorp Chief Executive Kenneth Obiajulu supports the growth of a strong and competitive sciences sector, with cutting-edge bio-manufacturing capabilities.
His desire is for the government and the private sector to drive innovation and scale up training activities in the agric sector that would help translate commercially-promising research into new products to drive the growth of agriculture.
He called for innovation centres in agriculture where entrepreneurs, academic researchers, innovators and agro enterprises can access a full spectrum of services, including scientific expertise and research infrastructure.
He believes Nigeria has a diverse talent pipeline which needs to be supported to transform innovative ideas into the agricultural discoveries of tomorrow.
The European Union (EU) Delegation to Nigeria, Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) and the Federal Government through the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, are working on maize value chain to reduce risk for farmers.EU mandated the Alliance of European Universities and Research Centres specialising in agricultural research for development (Agrinatura) to undertake a detailed overview of the maize value chain from the economic, social and environmental point of view.
The study was conducted by a team of national and international experts from Agrinatura. The report acknowledged that Nigeria remains one of the world’s leading maize producers, especially of non-genetically modified white maize.
However, with demand on the rise, both as food and from the processing industry, the country is still exposed to risks of supply shortfall.According to Agrinatura, the study generated evidence-based knowledge to help policymakers underpin and fine-tune policy actions and interventions in the value chain to enhance its sustainable and inclusive development.
“The VCA4D analysis provides a baseline, useful to appreciate the evolution of the sector over time, also in contexts of investment (like the one promoted by EDFI AgriFi).
The maize value chain plays a vital role in the local cereal market, in terms of food supply for the population, livelihoods for the rural population, food security of the country, and regular source of additional income to subsistence farmers.
Arcadia Bio-sciences, Inc. and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) have been driving rice varieties for smallholder farmers in Africa. Using its bio-science expertise, the company provides improved rice lines to African research collaborators for field-testing.
The partnership has led to increased rice productivity, improved profitability for farmers, and benefits the environment. Both organisations are determined to solve the challenges of availability of new agricultural technologies to African farmers.
The organisations believe salt-tolerant African rice provides substantial economic benefits to smallholder African farmers by reducing total input costs and increasing yields.