A screenshot of the ICRISAT-WCA regional strategy consultation meet. Photo: ICRISAT

Developing a five-year Strategic Plan for ICRISAT WCA Research Program

A screenshot of the ICRISAT-WCA regional strategy consultation meet. Photo: ICRISAT

A screenshot of the ICRISAT-WCA regional strategy consultation meet. Photo: ICRISAT

Leveraging stakeholder partnerships, improving risk management efforts, enhancing farm production systems while sustaining natural resources and building of stronger research systems were stressed during a recently held consultation meeting to strengthen livelihoods and improve food security in West and Central Africa (WCA). The meeting was organized on 1 September to gather insights for developing a five-year strategy (2021-2025) for ICRISAT’s WCA Research Program.

ICRISAT’s current strategic plan ends in 2020. Driven by the principle of Inclusive Market-Oriented Development (IMOD) for smallholder farmers in the tropical drylands, the current plan guides country strategic plans. In Niger, the institute’s country strategy aimed at boosting smallholder agricultural production and increasing their resilience, while in Nigeria there was a focus on building an agribusiness economy capable of delivering sustainable prosperity by meeting domestic food security goals, generating exports, supporting sustainable income and job growth. In Mali, the plan aimed at enhancing the capacity of key actors in the dryland cereal-based cropping systems to increase the productivity and profitability of family farms while enhancing their resilience to climate change in order to improve food, nutrition security and livelihoods.

Dr Ramadjita Tabo, Regional and Research Program Director, ICRISAT-WCA, outlined the meeting’s objectives while suggesting review of achievements and identifying gaps in the implementation of the ongoing strategy.

Dr Farid Waliyar, an Independent Expert invited by ICRISAT and partners, looked at reasons for shorter than expected reach of some technologies. “Changes should be made to the actual regional mandate to take into account the findings, reflecting the new regional mandate in the Strategy of ICRISAT and get the donor support by providing them with appropriate data,” Dr Waliyar noted as he talked about climate change as the most important issue for the program to target.

According to Dr Peter Ninnes, another Independent Expert, understanding the donor/ investor landscape, partnerships and intelligence sharing is essential. Such an effort will involve a model that explains how future interventions lead to impacts, articulated in a clear operational matrix (Impact, Intermediate outcomes and Outputs). The pathways to impact would include: enhancing production systems, sustaining natural resources, building resilient communities, building value chains, enhancing opportunities for agribusiness, job creation, creating opportunities for women and youth, linking end-users and consumers to producers (and vice-versa), Dr Ninnes said.

Dr Abdou Tenkouano, Executive Director of CORAF/WECARD, proposed a model in which ICRISAT can collaborate using a risk-centric strategy with a balance of immediacy and resilience (responding to immediate needs without compromising preparedness for future shocks).

“Putting risk management at the center of agricultural research, production and market development programs means that data and programming priorities should better reflect major risks and innovative approaches for managing them at farm, community, landscape, and economy levels,” he said. Also, “Diversity of crop and livestock systems should be emphasized along with increasing productivity and efficiency of individual commodities and value chains.” He also called for a focus on innovations that expand access to savings and credit facilities that are critical to the ability to recover from shocks and sustain production systems. Dr Tenkounano emphasized the crucial role of enhanced partnerships for technologies delivery and impacts.

“The vehicle for delivery in this mission will be partnership-based international agricultural research-for-development. As an association of NARS and the technical arm of the economic communities, CORAF will occupy a central position in coordinating, animating and managing the knowledge products generated by regional research programs to ensure delivery,” he explained.

Dr Bourema Dembele, Country Representative of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) in Mali, invited ICIRSAT’s Regional Research Program to use past experience to:

  • Resolve urgent issues of intellectual property, biosafety and public acceptance of transgenics
  • Develop research programs and priorities aligned with countries’ strategic research needs through a highly participatory process to consolidate its regional role
  • Strengthen ICRISAT’s role as a center of excellence for plant genetic resources, and the valuation (PGRE) of priority value chains in close partnership with the national system
  • Constitute a hub in West Africa for strategic research on genomics and to strengthen the capacities of NARS on research tools
  • Contribute to the definition of rules governing ownership of participatory varieties
  • Consolidate its integrated pest management (IPM) and integrated disease management (IDM) activities with innovative approaches
  • Strengthen its support and research around ecological intensification and
  • Continue its research program in socio-economics and politics at ICRISAT.

Prof Jibrin Mohamed Jibrin, Director of the Center for Dryland Agriculture (CDA), highlighted the key strengths of ICRISAT’s Strategic Plan for targeting a systems approach and the need for expanding strategic partnerships between ICRISAT and CDA. According to Prof Jibrin, emerging possibilities for partnerships include knowledge generation. Also, the new normal post COVID-19 presents a greater need for strong and effective partnerships, he said. “While the ‘One CGIAR’ policy could unlock additional resources, ICRISAT can achieve a lot more at lower cost by leveraging more of its existing and new partnerships with National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) through: identifying and engaging partners with similar vision and some resources to share. More focus should be placed on working with partners in development of technologies and not just testing and dissemination,” he commented.

The private sector was represented by Ms Halatou Dem, Managing Director, Les Céréales de Tatam, and Ms Coulibaly Maimouna Sidibe, Founder and CEO, Faso Kaba Seed Company. “Currently, we are working on developing infant flour enriched with micronutrients. We have been collecting our raw materials from farmers’ cooperatives based in the Ségou region in Mali. However, it has been very challenging to control the quality of varieties used. Training of producers should be continued to improve quality of products and supply chain with agro-food processing industry actors. This can only be achieved with increased cooperation between ICRISAT and the private sector, including cereals processing companies like ours,” Ms Dem said.

Ms Sidibe termed the quality of seeds and the rate of technology adoption by end users a major constraint. “A major challenge for Malian seed companies remains access to quality seeds for customers. I suggest changing the way of investing and sharing resources between research and private companies. We believe Faso Kaba can play a key role in disseminating ICRISAT’s technologies at scale.”

Following the panel, a guided discussion chaired by Dr Hakeem Ajeigbe, Country Representative, ICRISAT-Nigeria, was held on demonstration of impacts and science policy interface; emerging challenges in gender, nutrition, climate change, new pests, increased dependence of ruminants on crops due to reduced grazing areas; and resource mobilization (including contribution from non-traditional donors).

During the discussions, the importance of quality data, science and communication was mentioned especially with regards to demonstrating impact. “We also need to have high level engagement with donors, increase participation in solutions finding in the conflict zones and for climate change scenarios based on appropriate modelling,” summarized Dr Ajeigbe.

Dr Lassine Dembele, Permanent Secretary of the Malian Ministry of Agriculture, in his concluding remarks, invited ICRISAT and partners to pay more attention to mechanization, post-harvest management, migration, and natural resources management.

“The targeted crops are of interest to our countries, particularly in the context of climate change and marked by the degradation of production systems. We need technologies to meet these challenges. The issue of migration can be addressed by developing agro-processing with the private sector particularly through involvement of women and youth. A strong link must absolutely be developed between research and these companies. The management of natural resources must also be taken into account because our smallholders are using degraded land which needs to be improved with best technologies that are affordable. We also have to think about mechanization because people need to modernize their production systems. Post-harvest technologies that will help reducing losses as well as better market linkages for farmers must be addressed,” said Dr Dembele.

In his concluding remarks, Dr Sharma echoed the importance of assessment of why some technologies have not been reaching out to large number of end users. “We also need to leverage CORAF as the power house of delivery, with AGRA, the national partners and keys constituents,” he said. During his remarks, both opening and closing, Dr Sharma emphasized the ongoing changes in the context of ‘One CGIAR’ towards increased impacts.

According to Ms Joanna Kane-Potaka, Assistant Director General, External relations, the meeting focused on partnerships as the way forward. “Comparative advantages are not just about looking internally but also are oriented to how we complement with external partners. It came out so strongly that we need to work out the whole partnership model,” said Ms. Kane-Potaka.

Dr Tabo thanked the organization committee, all panelists and participants for their contributions to the strategic action plan. “We can do more if we work together keeping in mind issues of intellectual property, training and capacity building of partners while jointly developing projects will also help raise more funding for greater impact”. He also thanked Mr Anjani Kumar, Indian Ambassador to Mali, for his participation in the event.

The panel discussions were chaired by Dr Malick Ba, Country Representative, ICRISAT-Niger. The guided discussions were chaired by Dr Hakeem Ajeigbe, Country Representative, ICRISAT-Nigeria, while opening and closing session were chaired by Ms Agathe Diama, Head Regional Information.

The webinar was attended by about 70 participants including government officials, private, NGOs, farmers organizations and partners.

To view the event, click here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HbN8qZcPkn4

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