Agricultural scientists: Systems research offers solutions to tackling poverty, hunger, and environmental degradation

Agricultural scientists and researchers from over 30 countries met this week at IITA headquarters in Ibadan, Nigeria, for the International Conference on Integrated Systems for Sustainable Intensification in Smallholder Agriculture.

Conference speakers and exhibitors, representing the implementing partners of three systems research programs of the CGIAR Consortium presented strategies and results that respond directly to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) outlined by the United Nations, and have a marked impact on the lives and livelihoods of smallholder producers and consumers of developing countries.

 

DG Sanginga addresses participants at the Conference in IITA, Ibadan.
DG Sanginga addresses participants at the Conference in IITA, Ibadan.

The conference aimed to: (1) demonstrate and share experiences and evidence that show the effectiveness of Systems Approaches in agriculture research in contributing to livelihoods and natural resource management; (2) share methods, tools, and research approaches used in Systems Research; (3) explore opportunities for new partnerships in Systems Research for development; and (4) identify opportunities for cross-system learning, and methods to do this effectively.

The conference covered the following research themes: integrated systems improvement and sustainable intensification; sustainable intensification in practice; partnerships and institutional arrangements for innovation, scaling up, and impact; and foresight in systems research for development impact.

Among the CGIAR research managers who attended this multidisciplinary event were Dr Nteranya Sanginga, Director General of IITA; Dr Kwesi Atta-Krah, Director, CGIAR Research Program on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics (Humidtropics); Dr Frank Rijsberman, CEO of the CGIAR Consortium; and Dr Ann Tutwiler, Director General of Bioversity International.

Keynote speakers during the media briefing.
Keynote speakers during the media briefing.

Other key partners present at the meeting were Dr Yemi Akinbamijo, Executive Director, Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) who took part in the opening program on 4 March; Prof David W. Norman, Professor Emeritus, Kansas State University; Dr Bernard Hubert, President, Agropolis International; Dr Andy Hall, Agriculture Flagship, Commonwealth Scientific Industrial and Research Organization (CSIRO); Dr Dennis Garrity, UN Drylands Ambassador & Senior Fellow, ICRAF; Dr Linley Chiwona Karltun, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences; among many others.

According to Dr Atta-Krah of the CGIAR Research Program on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics (Humidtropics), “The conference offers a platform for sharing of experiences and research results in systems research for development, from different countries and regions of the world. It provides a reminder of the challenges facing global agriculture and food systems, and the solutions that integrated systems research offers as part of a global effort to tackle poverty, hunger and environmental degradation.”

The event featured 45 plenary and oral presentations, and over 50 poster presentations, representing one of the most important and stimulating international platforms for knowledge exchange on the latest scientific results, developments and experiences in the agricultural systems research for development sector.

Participants at the opening program of the Systems Conference.
Participants at the opening program of the Systems Conference.

The conference called upon the donor community, agricultural research institutions, partners in the wider research and development community, the private sector, as well as policy and decision-makers to work jointly and strengthen the use of systems approaches in agricultural research for development, to further advance the contribution of science to the international community’s commitment to end hunger completely by 2030.

The international meeting was organized by the IITA-led Humidtropics, in partnership with the CGIAR Research Program on Aquatic Agricultural Systems (AAS) and the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems (Drylands).

Africa RISING Project leads take part in Sustainable Intensification Cross-Learning Tour

Technical leads of the Africa RISING project in West Africa, East and Southern Africa, and Ethiopia, took part in a cross-learning tour on sustainable intensification from 28 January to 3 February. The event was organized by donors funding projects on sustainable intensification in Africa and South Asia. A diverse and multi-institutional group of 50 participants attended the event and shared perspectives on sustainable intensification in African and South Asian contexts. They came from USAID, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, USAID’s Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab, the Innovation Lab for Small-scale Irrigation, CIMMYT, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), and International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). Participants visited sites of CSISA in Bihar and Odisha States of India. IITA scientists who took part in the event were Irmgard Hoeschle-Zeledon, Mateete Bekunda, and Asamoah Larbi.

Africa RISING scientists Mateete Bekunda from IITA (right) and Kindu Mekonnen from ILRI (left) look at a mechanical seeder manufactured for use by small-scale farmers in India. The mechanical seeder is manufactured through a public-private partnership between the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) and the private sector.
Africa RISING scientists Mateete Bekunda from IITA (right) and Kindu Mekonnen from ILRI (left) look at a mechanical seeder manufactured for use by small-scale farmers in India. The mechanical seeder is manufactured through a public-private partnership between the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) and the private sector.

“Taking part in the cross-learning event provided insights for us on the work of our colleagues. We could clearly see how government’s subsidies help the adoption of technologies. Although we cannot change government policies in Africa, we have seen a lot of affordable and feasible options for the mechanization of smallholder farm activities which we can introduce in Africa and which will be beneficial to small-scale farmers. Examples are  the use of two-wheel tractors for line sowing and fertilizer application, fodder choppers, and axial flow pumps. We invite our CSISA colleagues to come to visit our activities and give us advice, based on their advanced experience in India,” said Dr Hoeschle-Zeledon, Project Coordinator for Africa RISING West Africa and East and Southern Africa.

Prof Mateete Bekunda, Chief Scientist of the Africa RISING East and Southern Africa Project, noted that such exchanges between sister projects in different parts of the world are beneficial for partners engaged in sustainable intensification projects to learn from each others’ experiences , refine project implementation, and consequently improve the livelihoods of the smallholder farmers.

As part of the US government’s Feed the Future (FtF) initiative to address hunger and food security in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, USAID is supporting three multi-stakeholder agricultural research projects under the umbrella program Africa Research in Sustainable Intensification for the Next Generation – Africa RISING. This is designed to sustainably intensify key African farming systems in West, East, and Southern Africa (led by IITA) and in the Ethiopian Highlands (led by ILRI).

Policy Action: Uganda Agriculture Minister approves revisions on country’s National Seed Policy

Group photo of workshop participants
Group photo of workshop participants

The Policy Action for Crop Intensification (PASIC) project has made great progress in supporting Uganda in developing its National Food Policy after the revisions made on the country’s National Seed Strategy were approved by the Minister for Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries. The revisions will be submitted along with the National Seed Policy document to Uganda’s cabinet for review.

This is a great milestone for this project in which  IITA, Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) are working closely with Uganda’s Agriculture ministry to set up policies and actions for sustainable agricultural intensification to boost the production of small-holder farmers

The National Seed Policy had been reviewed and validated at a Stakeholder’s meeting held last year. This had brought together key players in the sector from private seed companies, local seeds businesses, researchers, district officials, relevant ministries, and parliamentarians.

The seed strategy validation was followed up by further review of the regulations for agricultural chemical control in a process led by the Department of Crop Inspection and Certification of the Agriculture ministry and the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs (MoJCA) in January, 2015. The specific agricultural chemical control regulations include the seed and plant control, pest control and pesticide application equipment regulations.

Director Okaasai opens workshop on the National Seed Strategy of Uganda
Director Okaasai opens workshop on the National Seed Strategy of Uganda

According to Pamela Pali, the PASIC project coordinator, “This is a great milestone for the project and the agriculture sector in the country; access and use of improved seeds by farmers are critical in boosting agriculture production under agriculture intensification.”

She said the seed supply system in Uganda was mostly led by the poorly regulated informal sector which had 80% of the share market; the formal sector taking up the other 20%.  “Currently we have around 20 seed companies that make  up the formal seed supply system that is regulated through the public regulatory system from seed production to certification. The informal seed system, on the other hand, has no organized seed production chain, and is heavily unregulated,” she said.

During the various discussions in the validation process for the National Seed Strategy, several issues were discussed such as the consequences of implementing a private sector led national seed industry and evidence to show how biodiversity will be protected and preserved – passionate issues for the advocacy bodies.

It was agreed that an autonomous body to regulate the seed sector should be established.  Although quality control was seen as the primarily the role of government, the formation of private sector partnership was advocated to encourage competitiveness and efficiency.

Stakeholder from  agricultural research institutions, NGOs  and Uganda’s parliament study the national Seed strategy with a facilitator
Stakeholder from agricultural research institutions, NGOs and Uganda’s parliament study the national Seed strategy with a facilitator

Other key areas agreed upon included the need to build capacity of Quality Declared Seed (QDS) producers – the seed policy has a target to have 20% of the seed as QDS being produced by the informal seed sector. In addition, the mechanisms for self-regulation and internal quality management mechanisms among seed actors were to be strengthened and seed companies to provide extension services beyond the demonstration fields and they, as well as the seed traders, should have at least a seed technologist or technician amongst their staff.

The PASIC project is not only engaged in policy action for policies relevant to crop intensification such as the seed, fertilizer policy and extension; is also conducting research to analyse the bottlenecks in these policies.  This component is led by the by EPRC. From the stakeholder perspective, IITA is conducting research on the engagement of stakeholders in the policy processes. This research includes the analysis of the influence of policy processes and the dis/connect of actors on sustainable crop intensification in Uganda at national, district, and local levels and consideration of gender at these levels.

PASIC has also been collaborating with other projects such as USAID’s Enabling Environment in Agriculture (EEA) – agricultural inputs activity and the Integrated Seed Sector Development (ISSD) to contribute to the project’s efforts to create a favorable policy environment towards intensification of agriculture in the country.

Video:  EFFORTS TO ELIMINATE FAKE SEEDS

Use fertilizer to boost yield: key message during Babati Farmers’ Field Days

Inorganic fertilizers have a bad name in Babati and are accused of ruining soils. Therefore dispelling this myth and urging farmers to use them to boost their production was one of the key messages at a Farmers’ Field Day held in Babati District , 21 – 22 May 2014.

The guest of honor at the event Hon. Cade Mshamu, the Babati District’s Administrative Secretary, appreciated all the efforts by the researchers and partners of the Africa RISING program and encouraged farmers to make the best use of the new technologies being demonstrated to better their future.

Cade Mshamu, the Babati district's administrative secretary speaks to a farmer, taking part in the project's demonstrations, and his family
Cade Mshamu, the Babati district’s administrative secretary speaks to a farmer, taking part in the project’s demonstrations, and his family

He especially urged the farmers to stop holding on to their misguided belief that using fertilizers destroys soils and makes them unproductive.
“We have seen and heard from farmers in Seleto who have used the fertilizer as recommended by the project and have increased their yield to 5.2 tons of maize compared to only 2 tons by those who did not use fertilizer,” he said. “Therefore you need to disregard the myths on the use of fertilizer since they have been proven wrong by our agricultural scientists. And we have observed from the demonstration plots that fertilizer enriches the soil with nutrients and makes it more productive.”

Elizabeth Stanislaus sharing on her farming experience with the Africa RISING project
Elizabeth Stanislaus sharing on her farming experience with the Africa RISING project

Elizabeth Stanislaus, a mother of three and one of the farmers on whose farms trials to compare the new improved varieties and better farming methods are being conducted, has tested the use of fertilizer and improved seeds on a part of her farm. She reported she has seen a marked difference in the yield compared to her usual way of planting using manure only.
“I have tried out one of the new improved varieties, SC 627 with Minjingu Mazo fertilizer. The yields were very good. And it was profitable.”
pauloPaulo Johackim, another farmer from Sabilo village, who has used fertilizers and improved seeds also remarked on the difference: “In January I planted one of the new improved varieties, Pioneer 532 and applied DAP (Diammonium phosphate) fertilizer. The results are impressive. I advise my fellow farmers to engage in modern farming methods.

However he also pointed out the cost implications of fertilizers. “DAP and Minjingu Mazao are more expensive and this sometimes discourages farmers from adopting them,” said Mr Paulo Johackim; “ I therefore request the government to look into the cost of the seeds and other farming resources, since the expenses are high and discouraging to most farmers.”

On the heels of Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease (MLND)

Dr. MacDonald Bright Jumbo from CIMMYT, Kenya, briefed the farmers on the MLND and its symptoms.
Dr.  Jumbo explaining to farmers the MLND and its symptoms.

Arica RISING researchers are also looking into the Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease, a viral disease that is caused by maize chlorotic mottled virus (MCMV) and sugarcane mosaic virus (SMV). The disease has become a threat to Seleto and Mafuta villages of Babati region. It can cause up to 100% yield loss.

During the field day Dr MacDonald Bright Jumbo from CIMMYT, Kenya, briefed the farmers on the disease and its symptoms. He said the project was conducting trials for different varieties to identify those with resistance to the diseases.

He however urged the farmers to be vigilant and to notify agricultural officers as early as possible if they detected the disease on their farms to stop it from spreading.

The participants at the event included Professor Bekunda Mateete (IITA), Dr. Lyimo Stephen (SARI) , Dr. Kotu Bekelee (IITA), Dr. MacDonald Jumbo (CIMMITY), District Officers, Extension Officers and farmers. Also present were journalists from various media houses in the country.

Story by Eveline Massam