With the Horn of Africa drought affecting millions and food prices climbing to a historical peak, it’s time to ask how agricultural research for development can do more and better to fight against hunger and poverty.
Agricultural research experts recently met in Montpellier, France for the first ever G20 International Conference on Agriculture Research for Development to discuss this very issue.
The Montpellier meeting discussed better cooperation and coordination among G20 research systems and international organizations, including the Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers (CGIAR Consortium) to solve global food security. It also called for more investment in agricultural research for a true and sustainable development, to impact farmers in developing countries.
By 2050 there will be 9 billion to feed, which will require a 70 percent increase in agricultural production. We need to ensure this increase is achieved in a sustainable and social way. And we must target the smallholder farms first because that’s where the majority of the world’s food- insecure and ‘absolute poor’ people live.
By investing in technologies, policies and infrastructures, we can help small farms significantly raise their productivity and reduce poverty. Solving food insecurity at the local farm level is also environmentally-friendly.
One critical take home message from the conference was about the necessity of partnerships , in orderto find local solutions. Researchers must work in partnership with development organizations, national governments and institutions, private sector, civil society and most importantly, the farmers, who are at the forefront of global food security.
CGIAR’s recent reforms respond to this need: we have changed the way we set research priorities and carry out our work. Under the new CGIAR Research Programs (CRPs) researchers work with partners to achieve 4 key goals:
Improve food security,
Reduce rural poverty,
Improve nutrition and health, and,
Sustainably manage water, land, and other natural resources.
CRPs will have a significant impact on farmers, at a large-scale.
There are challenges, however.
One of these is how to get successful research solutions from the lab to the fields. Because there is no ‘one size fits all’ model and because each smallholder farmer is unique with his or her own constraints, we have to build local capacity for research and extension services, NGOs, local enterprises and media to ensure farmers are engaged, apply the research, and give feedback.
So what does all this mean for 35 year old Oumou, who lives in Sadore village in Niger, struggling to feed her 5 children due to unpredictable harvests from her husband’s millet farm?
By speaking to her we discover that she has no rights to own cropland, as is the case for most women in the Sahel, this region in Africa. However, by working with partners at a policy and practice level there is a lot we can do to help Oumou tackle hunger and poverty.
With the help of NGOs and community based organizations, Oumou could form women’s association and gain rights to a communal village ‘wasteland’. What does this mean? She could learn to use water harvesting techniques and biological pest control to reap nutritious drought resistant fruits, vegetables and legumes from this degraded land. Bioreclamation of Degraded Lands is an innovative technology involving CGIAR, CIRAD and local partners, where micro-catchments, called demi-lunes are dug to store run-off rainwater.
In these, Oumou’s group could plant hardy Apple of the Sahel (10 times the vitamin C of ordinary apples and rich in calcium, iron, and phosphorus) and Moringa trees (whose leaves contain 4 times the vitamin A in carrots, 4 times the calcium and double the protein in milk, and 3 times the potassium in bananas).
In between the demi-lunes they could plant high value vegetables like okra in 20x20 cm deep ‘zai’ pits filled with manure which catch run-off water and give great yields. By planting pigeonpea along the borders they could trap pests that would otherwise attack the okra.
What we need is for many others like Oumou to gain healthy incomes and diets at the same time as managing their natural resources. Perhaps rural radios and local extension services could spread and tailor these technologies through the right support from local government, media, and development partners. Market access and infrastructure are key to make an impact on poverty.
Effective research solutions need to be embraced by high level decision makers as well. For example, Heads of State and Government were at the United Nations meeting on 20 September, to discuss actions to control and reverse desertification to help reduce poverty.
As part of this, the meeting called for stronger connections between the scientific community and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. This type of partnership should ensure that challenges and solutions for those like Oumou are brought to the table, enabling research to have a widescale impact on development.
Crops, Farming, Farmers, Famine, Food Security, Health, Horn of Africa, Hunger, Niger, Nutrition, Poverty