Welcome to my blog! This is my first official blog post so I hope you will bear with me if I do not get this right the first time.
Almost a month ago, I – along with several members of IITA’s management and the Vice Chair of the IITA Board of Trustees – was at our Southern Africa Regional Hub in Lusaka, Zambia for two things: a management retreat, and for the “birth” of SARAH. In this blog, I want to talk about the latter. SARAH is not a person – SARAH is short for the Southern Africa Research and Administration Hub.
At the moment, our Southern Africa Hub office is a cramped, rented two-storey house from which more than 20 research and support staff operate. Not a very ideal situation, is it? However, with the completion of the first buildings of our permanent SARAH facilities by next year, we would be able to more effectively and efficiently carry out IITA’s mission and vision in Southern Africa.
At SARAH’s groundbreaking ceremony (the “birth” that I was referring to earlier), we invited the Vice President of the Republic of Zambia to grace the event. Unfortunately, he had to attend another official function, so he sent a representative in his stead – Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Livestock Hon. Rogers Mwewa.
To mark the occasion, the Hon Mwewa unveiled SARAH’s dedication plaque. I also had the honor of planting a tree with the honorable deputy minister, along with other important partners, to signify our commitment to improving the land and the lives of its people through agricultural research. On the side, we were also treated to some very energetic (read: flipping-through-the-air) cultural dances, displays and exhibitions, and a taste of different food items made from soybean, cassava, and cowpea. Overall, it was a significant and memorable event.
Just to give you an idea of what we’re building here: it will be a 50-hectare research, training, outreach, and business support campus. It will have state-of-the-art laboratories for natural resource management, agronomy and crop physiology, pest management, social sciences, plant breeding, biotechnology, GIS, crop utilization, and nutrition. It will also have facilities for producing high-value cassava-based products, postharvest and tissue culture, modern greenhouses, a fabrication workshop for labor-saving agricultural machinery as well training space for students, producers, processors, and other actors along the priority value chains.
There will also be a 3C (comprehensive, computerized, and connected) Knowledge Center that could accommodate about 50 people. A student hostel, recreation facilities, and secured parking area will complete the ensemble. In addition, our long-term vision is to establish two testing sites in Zambia, representing the more humid zones (northern Zambia) and dry savanna (Zambezi valley) of southern Africa.
We plan to build SARAH in phases – under the first phase, which will be completed by the last quarter of 2014, we will have built the administration building, the greenhouses, and the machinery fabrication facilities. Once completed, this will enable us to transfer our operations from our current temporary office. The rest of SARAH’s facilities will follow within 5 years. I encourage you to follow my blog for updates as SARAH “grows”.
Thank you for finding time to read through my first blog entry. I welcome comments, suggestions, and “constructive criticisms” to help me improve. I’ll get better at this, I promise! Talk to you again soon.