GCARD2010 Guest blog: Building Partnerships to Drive Agricultural Innovation

by Howard Minigh*, Farming First 

Most of us involved with GCARD are well aware that food security has recently become a dominant issue on the global political agenda.  The challenge ahead of us, according to the late Dr. Norman Borlaug, is to grow more food in the next 50 years than has been produced over the past 10,000 years. 

To do this, the agricultural community must come together to harness its expertise and resources to develop and embed best-practice agricultural methods which bridge the gap between current practice and agriculture’s productive potential.

During GCARD, the Farming First coalition will host a session on public-private partnerships (PPPs), welcoming a range of global innovators, from the public and the private sector to discuss their experiences and the role of PPPs in research for development.  We’ll explore why PPPs have worked well; where they have faced hurdles and how their learnings could be shared.  Where successful, we’ll look to understand how these learnings can be multiplied and shared more effectively to reach more of the world’s farmers.

Taking Action Together

Farmers need access to the most effective and appropriate technologies if they are to continue feeding a growing global population of increasingly urban dwellers.  With finite natural resources, farming on a constrained land base will require unprecedented and ongoing investment in agricultural innovations.  Technological developments must be accompanied by a parallel investment in appropriate infrastructure, training programmes, and continued monitoring of impacts and effectiveness.

To achieve the greatest reach, business, government and research institutions should work together to develop the needed innovations and outreach programmes.

Adapting to Local Farmers’ Needs

Several partnerships have sought to address the challenge of developing locally adapted seed varieties to help improve yields in resource-poor areas.  The Improved Maize of African Soils (IMAS) Alliance is a new alliance bringing together foundations, national research institutions, international donors and the private sector in a programme to develop new maize varieties that use fertilizer, and hence nitrogen, more efficiently.  Similarly, researchers at the University of Bern have recently teamed up with private sector researchers to explore ways to improve the yield of tef, the most important cereal crop in Ethiopia.

One of the greatest hindrances to farmers benefiting from new innovations is a lack of skills and information on how to use them. Currently, the benefits of many new technologies have yet to be fully realised because farmers haven’t been given sufficient training.  To help address this, a partnership between the USAID-funded Agribusiness and Trade Promotion (ATP) project and CropLife Africa Middle East is supporting improved maize production in West Africa, setting up a series of workshops to educate farmers on sustainable farming practices and integrated pest management. By helping farmers to cost-effectively boost yields, the project will strengthen their agricultural input-output chains and improve rural livelihoods.

Connecting Farmers to Information and Markets

Other examples of partnerships show how modern telecommunication technologies have helped farmers cope with changing weather patterns brought on by climate change. Through Qualcomm’s Wireless Reach initiative, rural communities have been given telephone connectivity, which allows farmers to access up-to-date information on weather, crops, pest control and markets, so they can make better-informed farming decisions.

In Kenya, an innovative programme involving a mobile phone application payment system and automated weather stations offers insurance to smallholders against financial losses if their crops are ruined by drought or flooding. The project, named Kilimo Salama or “Safe Agriculture”, is a collaboration between the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, UAP Insurance and telecom operator Safaricom, and it provides farmers with a safety net to help them to break out of the subsistence cycle. (For more on this, watch a video interview with Syngenta Foundation’s Marco Ferroni discussing the project.)

In order for smallholder farmers in the developing world to truly grow their way out of poverty, they need access to international markets. ‘African Marketplace’, led by IIED and the Sustainable Food Lab and funded by the Gates Foundation, has been working with food retailer ASDA on a new project to link suppliers in sub-Saharan Africa with senior buyers for supermarkets.  The programme aims to facilitate £30 million of new business for African products by 2030.

Against this backdrop of relentless innovative endeavour, the decision to host GCARD is itself a reflection of how various groups can come together to shape a common path forward.   These open partnerships not only unlock the value of innovations but help make sure that these tools and technologies remain accessible to those who need them most.

* Howard Minigh is a spokesperson for Farming First, a coalition representing the world’s farmers, scientists, engineers and industry.  He is President and CEO of CropLife International, a global federation representing the plant science industry and a network of regional and national associations in 91 countries.

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