The year 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). The anniversary was celebrated to reflect two milestones: the first 50 years, covering the period from its inception up till now; and the next 50 years, covering the present to the next 50 years. The first core event, held on 24 July, celebrated the achievements of the institute and its people – researchers, staff, alumni, partners and donors – that have been part of the history and success of the institute.
The second celebration event was a conference organized to address the challenges, opportunities and strategies for ensuring food and nutrition security for the coming 50-year period. The conference had a foresight and futuristic focus; this is pertinent particularly given the key challenges of population growth and climate change and their impact on agriculture and food systems in the world.
It is estimated that the population of the world would reach 9 billion by the year 2050. Food availability in quantity and quality would be a major challenge for this number of people. It is in this respect that the IITA 50th Anniversary Food Security conference was organized.
The conference, tagged “Towards Food and Nutrition Security for the next half century: challenges, opportunities, and strategies” attracted about 300 experts from the research community, policymakers, and the donor community. The conference was intended to share ideas on the emerging challenges of food security, and also look forward to the future with an emphasis on what role IITA could play in the context of a solutions provider and as a driver of agricultural transformation in Africa.
The African Union’s Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, H.E. Mrs. Josefa Correa Sacko; former President of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, IITA Director General, Dr Nteranya Sanginga; Chair of the IITA Board, Dr Bruce Coulman; and Chair of the IITA 50th Anniversary Committee, Dr Kwesi Atta-Krah, addressed participants during the opening session, setting the tone for the conference.
Nine invited presentations were made in three technical sessions, on topics ranging from farming and food systems, sustainable intensification, agroecology, climate change, youth in agriculture, impact of NERICA rice, molecular science, developing genebank, and IITA’s research and orientation into the future.
Some key points made in the course of the various presentations include:
IITA and the CGIAR
- Africa has the potential to increase the production and productivity of staple crops to meet the rising demand and cut the import bill of more than $35 billion per annum. A good example is the NERICA rice that has proven to have reduced the import bill of rice into Africa.
- The role of IITA in Africa’s agricultural transformation and food security in the last 50 years was recognized. Specific mention was made of the success against cassava mealybug and the development of new and improved varieties of staple crops that have helped in increasing Africa’s agricultural productivity.
- Leadership was considered critical in Africa’s agricultural transformation—both at the national and institutional levels.
- The CGIAR gene banks hold tremendous diversity of staple crops. Value addition to these collections is underway through discovery
The future of agriculture
- There is no ‘silver bullet’ on how to approach and solve the problems of Africa’s agriculture. In this context, sustainable intensification should be the goal and various approaches/innovations such as push and pull could provide solutions to the food question in Africa. The pace of innovation and change needs to be accelerated.
- Recognizing the impact of climate on agriculture, the need for agricultural innovations in the context of climate change was emphasizsed.
- The role of nutrition was emphasized, and participants reiterated that nutrition should be an integral part of the agricultural research agenda in moving forward.
Research and development
- The conference recognized that both research and delivery are important for development to occur and researchers must pursue the two to achieve sustainable development.
- ICT should become a major driving force to facilitate large-scale dissemination of information, knowledge and decision support tools in agricultural research and delivery.
- Partnerships are key for agricultural transformation in Africa. IITA’s partnerships need to be strengthened with the public, nongovernmental organisations, and the private sector at all levels. Partnership with FAO, World Bank, AGRA, GFAR, on specific areas of interest in the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals was considered urgent and necessary for IITA’s vision of success and agricultural transformation. Value for money of our research can increase tremendously if we key into large-scale government initiatives.
- IITA needs to capitalize on existing platforms and projects/initiatives to expand the dissemination of its research results.
- IITA needs to strengthen collaboration with the AUC and should align its research priorities with the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Program (CAADP).
- IITA’s focus on the commercialization of innovation through the Business Incubation Platform model should be further encouraged to support scaling up of agricultural research Innovation.
Youth in agriculture
- Youth are key to African agricultural transformation with specific entry points for engaging in agribusiness. Young people exist within a social context of families and peer groups which can both enable and constrain them. Opportunities for the youth must be developed with this in mind. Mechanisms for their engagement should be backed by research and evidence models.
- The role of IITA in addressing the problem of youth unemployment and apathy to agriculture was commended. Specific examples were made for Tanzania and Nigeria. In light of the enormity of the youth problem in these countries, participants noted that addressing the challenge of youth would require more partners on board.
- Participants called for better policies by governments to support research, increase sustainable production and reduce importation of commodities that can be produced by local farmers.
In the next 50 years IITA will continue undertaking research and delivery in its key mandate domains, while intensifying efforts in four particular areas:
- The transformation focus of its research, which aims through massive scaling out efforts, to impact on changing livelihoods of farmers and in the economies of African countries. This includes pursuing a value chain approach in research as well as linking research to markets and development. The African Development Bank program on Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT), which is coordinated by IITA, will be a key instrument in this component of work. The program is also supported by the World Bank, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and USAID.
- Youth in agriculture and agribusiness, which provides solutions to the issue of youth unemployment and unearthing opportunities for youth in agriculture and agribusiness. IITA, through the Youth Agripreneurship Program, like GFAR’s Youth Agripreneurs Project, has demonstrated how this can be done and has developed a model for outscaling this initiative to African countries. The African Development Bank has initiated a program known as ENABLE-Youth, based on the IITA IYA model, aimed at supporting African countries to initiate youth agripreneurship incubation programs. IITA provides technical direction in this initiative.
- Strengthening research to address direct and indirect impacts of climate change. Emphasis will be placed on the indirect impacts such as the effect of climate change on new pests and diseases. A current threat being experienced in Africa is the rapid spread of the pest, fall armyworm, throughout the continent. Based on previous successes of managing large biocontrol and IPM projects, IITA and partners have spearheaded the initiative of establishing a Biorisk Management Facility (BIMAF), to be housed in its research campus in Cotonou, Republic of Benin, under the umbrella of CORAF/WECARD, and with political support of the President of Benin, H.E. Patrice Talon, who championed this initiative at COP22 in Morocco.
- Finally, IITA will strengthen efforts in aligning its research and delivery operations with the strategic goals and targets of priority countries. This will also include alignment to continental policy and political processes such as the African Union Commission, CAADP, and NEPAD-PCA. Strategic partnerships with country, regional, and international agencies involved in agriculture research and delivery towards food and nutrition security, job creation, import substitution, and economic diversification will be central in this work.
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This blog post was written by Kwesi Atta-Krah, Director for Country Alignment and Systems Integration, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). IITA was established in 1967 as the first link in the African network of international agricultural research centers. IITA is a member of CGIAR, a global partnership for a food-secure future.
Photo credits: IITA