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Integrated agricultural research systems key to Africa’s transformation —Sanginga

Warns against paying lip service to agric

INTEGRATED systems research approach in agriculture is key to sustainable transformation in Africa with benefits including increase in yields and livelihoods improvement of resource-poor farmers, according to the Director General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Dr Nteranya Sanginga.

The systems approach places the farmer at the center and develops an understanding of the farm-household, the environment in which he/she operates, and the constraints he/she faces; together with identifying and testing potential solutions to those constraints. It also involves the dissemination of the most promising solutions to other farm households facing similar problems.

Dr Sanginga threw his support to systems researchduring his welcome address to participants at the “Systems Marketplace” workshop held 15-17 November at IITA Ibadan. The meeting was  organized by the CGIAR Humidtropics program, in partnership with the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA).

The IITA boss reiterated IITA’s strong history with and commitment to integrated systems research,  adding that even though CGIAR would no longer fund standalone systems research programs in its new portfolio, IITA would continue to support systems research and site integration efforts to successfully help with Africa’s agricultural transformation agenda.

According to him, “the work of the Humidtropics program has been shown to be very important for improving livelihoods of smallholder farmers, which is attracting the interest of governments and some key donors.”

Dr Kwesi Atta-Krah, Director of the Integrated Systems on Humidtropics program said system thinking was the way to go. “If we want transformation in Africa, we must approach issues in the agricultural sector with systems thinking because the African farmer thinks systems—on his farm, he plants cassava, yam, vegetables and name it. It is not just a single crop that he plants,” he explained.

More than 100 participants including leaders and researchers at the CGIAR System, Center and Program levels, representing subject, organizational and cultural variety attended the 3-day Marketplace workshop. For three intensive and productive days they shared their knowledge and experiences to facilitate integration of systems thinking, tools, methods, approaches and partnerships in other Research for Development (R4D) initiatives.

Presenting an independent and general perspective on systems research in the new CGIAR Research Programs (CRPs) portfolio, Professor Maggie Gill, Chair of the ISPC (Independent Science and Partnership Council) CGIAR, mentioned that she was at the event to learn what systems research products were on offer, how new CRPs integrate systems approaches to enhance their contribution to achieving the development outcomes outlined in the CGIAR strategy and results framework.

Dr Peter Gardiner from the CGIAR System Organization said the systems work done by the Humidtropics collected tools that would be mainstreamed into the new programs.

In another development, the Director General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Dr Nteranya Sanginga has warned that there were negative consequences if Africa continued to pay lip service to agriculture, and failed to invest in the sector.

Addressing members of the Board of Trustees of IITA and researchers during the 2016 Partnership for Development Week (P4D Week) in Ibadan that ended on Friday, Dr Sanginga said the neglect of agriculture would cost $110billion in terms of food imports by 2025 to feed Africans up from the current $35bn.

Besides, a failure to invest in agriculture would deprive the continent of necessary jobs and further fuel the spiralling rate of unemployment among the youth on the continent.

The director general acknowledged that though some African governments have come to the realisation that agriculture was one of the ways to save the continent from the mess, most countries were not investing enough in the sector.

“Take for instance, the commitment to invest at least 10 percent of national budgets to agriculture. Not many countries are meeting this goal,” Dr Sanginga said.

He commended the African Development Bank for the new initiative—Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation—to transform agriculture on the continent.

He explained that the TAAT program is a new initiative of the AfDB in collaboration with the Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research (CGIAR) under the Feed Africa Initiative to drive agriculture development on the continent.

Through the TAAT program, the Bank aims to invest more than $800 million to the agricultural sector. The funds would be channelled into upscaling of proven innovations that will improve the fortunes of farmers and address the twin problem of food insecurity and unemployment.

Dr Sanginga also reiterated IITA’s commitment to supporting African smallholder farmers in the context of agribusiness such that agriculture transcends food for the fork to money in the pocket.

According to him, IITA will continue to respond to the needs of Africa by developing innovations that will provide answers to Africa’s food insecurity. To this end, IITA will be demonstrating its scientific leadership not only in terms of qualitative research in the lab, but also impact in farmers’ fields.

Dr Sanginga who began his second tenure earlier this year said that IITA’s priority for the future would focus on research, capacity development, partnerships, impact at scale, and most importantly delivery.

The director general said IITA’s internal reorganisation had put the Institute in a better position to address the challenges confronting Africa more than ever before.

He called on researchers to redouble their efforts and commitment to the ideas, mission and vision of the Institute which includes lifting out of poverty 11 million Africans, and the reclamation of 7.5 million hectares of degraded land and putting them into sustainable use.

Chair of IITA Board of Trustees, Prof Bruce Coulman commended Dr Sanginga for the efforts in repositioning IITA for the challenges ahead, stressing that the Board was convinced that “IITA is in safe hands.”

He emphasised that IITA would continue to support Africa in achieving the goal of eradicating hunger and poverty in Africa.

The P4D Week is an annual event that brings together more than 200 international researchers working for IITA across the world to review, share experiences and plan for the way forward.

Deputy Director General, Partnership for Delivery, Dr Kenton Dashiell said the P4D week’s emphasises for the year was not just on research but also on delivery at scale.