Focusing on Future of Food: What’s Next for Global Agricultural Research?
The Third Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD3) was the culmination of a two-year consultation process with national and regional stakeholders, and a chance to set a new agenda for today’s agricultural research, to ensure it meets the challenges of development for tomorrow.
A major theme running throughout the conference has been ensuring that “no one is left behind” in the unfolding agricultural revolution, and that research remains “future-focused”. We know that sudden shocks such as natural disasters and pest outbreaks can cripple agricultural production – just look at the impact El Niño-induced drought is having on farmers across southern Africa.
We therefore need to be investing in forward-thinking programs that will help communities prepare for such events. However this should not be just a case of researchers thinking for communities, but also of supporting communities to engage in the process of designing desired futures taking into account climate change and other scenarios.
In Africa alone, CGIAR’s global network of research centers is already working on a number of programs to make this happen. For example, a project is under way in Nigeria to map flooding patterns to guide decision-making on future flood response. It will also identify flood capture and storage solutions for flood-recession agriculture and dry-season farming.
Improving access to climate information is also going to be critical, to help farmers maintain their yields in the face of erratic weather patterns. In collaboration with AGRHYMET and the National Meteorological Services of several countries (such as Madagascar, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Tanzania), CGIAR is channelling climate information directly into farmers’ hands across Africa.
By combining traditional and scientific knowledge, locally specific forecasts are tailored to meet farmers’ needs and delivered via mobile phone and radio broadcasts. Farmers benefit from tailored information about what to plant, when to plant, when to fertilise and when to harvest, and are trained in how to interpret and apply the forecasts to their day-to-day farming.
Another overwhelmingly supported take away from the conference was the need to change our mindsets and recognise the yet untapped potential of youth for realising agricultural development, and also providing employment to themselves and others. Two dynamic young speakers (from the Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD) and Makolobane Farmers Enterprises) urged the audience to stop referring to youth as “leaders of tomorrow” and recognise their role as “leaders of today”.
When one stops to consider that Africa has some 200 million youth in need of employment, and Africa’s food and beverage markets have the potential to be worth US$1 trillion by 2030 – it is an obvious action point to equip young people with the skills they need to participate in this growing market.
Significant investment in training and equipment is required, to make local production, processing and marketing of these foods an attractive choice for young entrepreneurs. In her speech, the young Managing Director of Makolobane Farmers Enterprises, Dimakatso Sekhoto, highlighted the need for more young people to be able to access finance to support their businesses.
Building capacities of the youth in the area of business skills, entrepreneurship, leadership and personal development came across from a number of young people attending GCARD3 as essential support factors. For example, training to write business plans, so that young people are able to go to banks and ask for loans, backed up with the appropriate paperwork and planning, will be a critical step towards this.
It is encouraging that several initiatives are springing up aimed at supporting the “Youth in Agriculture” mission. Examples are the YPARD initiative being implemented by the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR), in various countries around the world. In 2012, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan, Nigeria, also launched the IITA Youth Agripreneurs (IYA) initiative.
The program is aimed at exposing young people to the opportunities inherent in agriculture for job creation and employment, and encouraging them to explore the various channels that are open to business in agriculture. These include areas such as the specialization and production of quality seeds; value addition through processing; fisheries and brood stock production; marketing and use of ICT in agribusiness.
At IITA, we are investing heavily in this kind of preparation for young “agripreneurs” to enter the market. The IYA initiative has now been replicated in five other countries: Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and Zambia. Many more countries are on the horizon.
In DRC, for example, the IITA-Kalambo Youth Agripreneurs (IKYA), a group of young and enterprising graduates engaged in agribusiness, aim to build agribusiness enterprises for themselves and serve as a model to other youth. Formally launched in April 2014 as an offshoot of IYA, the group has a current membership of 32 young “Business Builders”, aged between 25-32 years old from different backgrounds.
The activities of the group cut across the value chains of different crops including cassava, maize, beans and soybeans. The group has engaged in different profitable agriculture business enterprises, including production and sales of agricultural commodities and vegetables, such as agro-processing of cassava and maize, production of high-quality maize flour and cassava flour and starch, as well as fisheries.
Aiming to increase their incomes, the young and enterprising members of IKYA have also increased their business opportunities by going into value-addition activities through the development and marketing of nutritious cassava-soybean agro-foods products, aimed at improving the nutritional diversity of household diets.
In addition to this type of program, several CGIAR centers now have business incubation platforms that develop efficient manufacturing methods that can be replicated by the private sector. One new business incubation hub in Uganda – Afri Banana Products Ltd – has nurtured 39 entrepreneurs; commercialized six technologies and helped generate employment for over 420 people.
New technologies are being tested, that reduce the drudgery of agro-processing and improve efficiency, such as amechanical sheller that can shell 18 times more groundnuts in one hour than hand shelling, and processors that can turn cassava peels into high quality animal feed. The Business Incubation Platform (BIP) of IITA in Nigeria has set up mini plants for the production of key agricultural inputs, as models for private sector engagement.
A key product from the IITA BIP is aflasafeTM for addressing the problem of aflatoxin contamination in grain and other crops. The aflasafeTM plant produces up to 40 tons of aflasafeTM a day and the BIP’s main goal is to get interested parties to invest in plant construction and laboratories all over Africa.
The GCARD process is designed to make sure that the scientists working on solutions to feed the world are listening to the needs of farmers, and other stakeholders on the ground. The national consultations have given CGIAR research centers around the world a refreshed plan of action for the countries in which they work.
Priorities such as preparing for future risks and consciously leveraging the potential of youth to catalyse agribusiness are going to be two important steps paving the way through the next decade of agricultural research. We are excited to move forward with this new era, towards a world were healthy, sustainable diets are provided for all.