Along with investments from national governments, ICRISAT can help African countries boost their agricultural productivity, improve food and nutrition security, and enhance livelihoods of their smallholder farmers. This was emphasized at a virtual conference organized by the Collective for the Renewal of Africa (CORA) recently. The Collective, a pan-African initiative of over 100 social scientists, researchers, historians, community leaders, and more, seeks to produce knowledge that can help break the cycle of exogenous development models in Africa by promoting innovative African thinking and practices
During the panel discussion ‘Harnessing the Potential of Science, Technology and Endogenous Knowledge’ at the conference, Dr Ramadjita Tabo, 2007 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and Regional and Research Program Director, ICRISAT-West and Central Africa, focused on agriculture, which remains critical to Africa’s socio-economic development and said, “We have a wealth of agricultural technology and knowhow at our disposal, but we need adequate investment in agriculture and development from the national governments to take Africa towards reducing poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition.”
Highlighting ICRISAT as a leader in agricultural research in the drylands, with a special focus on sub-Saharan Africa, Dr Tabo said, “If we can create an environment of enabling science and technology, Africa can surely make its way to the forefront of food grain exporters in the near future.”
“The application of biotechnology in agriculture has resulted in new crop varieties with improved tolerance to pests and diseases, and higher nutritional value,” said Dr Tabo. “We have Africa’s first biofortified pearl millet variety called Chakti that aims to combat anemia. A large pool of good dual-purpose millet and sorghum were recommended for nutrition for their high iron and zinc content and for improving crop-livestock farm system. Genomics is making it possible for scientists to identify genes that are linked to particular diseases. Genomic tools have been used and are expected to be intensified to find resistance or tolerance in drylands crops to the Fall armyworm.”
Dr Tabo talked about emerging advanced technologies with the potential to effectively mitigate climate change in Africa. “We have seen the efficacy of good agricultural practices that led to an increase in system productivity (see box). Contour bunding technology has been successful by increasing crop yields by more than 30%, and improving household economy by 20%,” he said.
Additionally, he emphasized the need to improve value chains of indigenous smart foods (such as millets and sorghum) for better nutrition and wellbeing of children, women and persons living with nutrition-related diseases – malnutrition (in rural areas) and diabetes (in urban areas). “We are delighted that the 2023 has been declared the International Year of Millets by the General Assembly of the United Nations. This offers an opportunity for the Sahelian countries to better promote these traditional crops that are highly resilient as well as nutritious. Using the connection with agribusinesses, start-ups, we believe that there is a room for jobs creation in the food processing industry,” Dr Tabo said. He also highlighted the importance of greater access of women and youth to resources and revenues-generating activities.
“While organizations such as AGRA are trying to promote greater adoption of agricultural technology by African farmers, we also need to harness the endogenous knowledge of local farmers for best results suited to the local ecosystem,” said Dr Tabo. “We need to find opportunities to build synergy with farmers by organizing seed fairs and demonstration sessions so that we can make the most by combining their knowledge with the latest in scientific research.”
Other speakers featured in the talk were:
Dr Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, former President of Mauritius who is also a biodiversity scientist
Dr Mariam Mayet, lawyer and activist, Africa Center for Biodiversity
Dr Lul Riek, physician and public health expert, African Union Center for Disease Control
Dr Raphael D Eklu-Natey, biologist, academic and African pharmacopoeia specialist
The session was chaired by Dr Malik Maaza, Chair, UNESCO UNISA ITL-NRF, who is also on the CORA Scientific Committee.
This session was held on 17 April as part of the week-long series of conversations on pan-African issues and solutions, conducted virtually.
Agathe Diama, Head – Regional Information, WCA
Rajani Kumar, Senior Communication Officer-Social Media