Friday, 25 November 2011

Enhancing partnerships between African and US scientists for collaborative GEC research

2012 Research Partnership Enhancement Awards
Announcing five Awards of $5,000 each to develop and/or enhance partnerships between African and US scientists for collaborative GEC research.

START is offering five grant awards to enhance partnerships between African scientists and US scientists who are currently engaged in Global Environmental Change (GEC) research.

1.  Who is eligible?                                    
Applications will be accepted from individual scientists from Africa who are based at an institution in Africa.  The African scientist must have an established contact with a counterpart scientist based at an institution in the United States.  

2.  Why are the grants being offered?
START sponsors a number of programs to build capacity for GEC research and outreach by scientists in Africa.  (   Over the years, START has received many requests to provide funds to allow face-to-face visits of scientists from the US and Africa.  The Research Partnership Enhancement Awards are being offered as a way to enhance collaborative US/Africa projects for research, training, joint scientific publications and the development of communication products.  The awards are part of START’s overall goals to:

·         increase the number of scientists in Africa who are working on global environmental change issues;
·         enhance communication at the interface of science, policy and practice;
·         encourage research that contributes to understanding global environmental change in the context of regional and national development priorities; and
·         strengthen scientific networks by fostering collaborative relationships across disciplines, institutions and countries.

Training program on agribusiness incubation for SSA

Dr Ralph von Kaufmann, Technical Coordinator,
UniBRAIN-FARA, in a discussion with Dr Dar and others
21-24 November. Aiming to promote agribusiness ventures in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) through value-chain based agribusiness incubators, ICRISAT’s Agri-Business Incubation (ABI) program under its
Agribusiness Innovation Platform (AIP) organized a training program on “Strengthening the capacity of UniBRAIN – Agribusiness Innovation Incubation Consortia (AIIC) members” at ICRISAT-Patancheru.

The training program primarily aimed to strengthen the capacity of AIIC members in incubator planning and management, in view of UniBRAIN’s plan to set up an African Business Incubators Network (AFBIN) similar to the Network of Indian Agri Business Incubators (NIABI) of India. The training was focused on incubator management, planning for incubation operations, client selection, setting up systems and processes, and other key aspects of setting up successful business incubators to promote entrepreneurship in sub-Saharan Africa.

Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU)
Twenty six participants from the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), Universities, Business and Research in Agricultural Innovation (UniBRAIN), Pan African Agribusiness and Agro Industry Consortium (PanAAC), Agro forestry and Natural Resources Education (ANAFE), Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in East and Central Africa (ASARECA), Conseil Ouest et Centre Africain pour la Recherche et le Développement Agricoles (CORAF) and SADC joined the training program at Patancheru, which had 30 resource persons from infoDev, ISBA, STC, Trec-STEP, Technopark, Villgro, etc. who provided and shared their vast and rich experiences in agriculture and agribusiness.

The training was continued at the Business Planning and Development (BPD) units of the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU), Coimbatore and Ooty.

UniBRAIN is a program of FARA supported by the Royal Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (DANIDA). It is facilitated by a team of partner institutions comprising FARA Networking Support Function for Capacity Strengthening (FARA-NSF4) and its associated sub-regional organizations – ASARECA, CORAF, Centre for Coordinating Agricultural Research and Development in Southern Africa
(CCARDESA), African Network for Agriculture, ANAFE, PanAAC, and ICRISAT Agri-Business Incubator (ABI).

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Australia International Centre for Food Security (AICFS)

28 October. The Australian government will establish an international food security centre to offer research and technical expertise to willing governments and institutions in Africa.The Australia International Centre for Food Security (AICFS) will be established in the second quarter of next year.

It will be set up at a cost of around US$37 million and be hosted by the Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research (ACIAR). Under the scheme African scientists will be linked to top Australian research bodies and tertiary education institutions to access solutions to the challenges of farming in tropical and sub-tropical environments.
Australian researchers will also train African scientists in the technology the country uses to cope with many of the environmental challenges it shares with Africa, such as its extreme climate, soil infertility and climate change.
Gabrielle Persley, adjunct professor at the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland in Australia, said the centre will help African scientists develop drought-resilient crop varieties, an area where Australia has made great strides.
The centre will also develop vaccines for livestock diseases and conduct joint research programmes with African counterparts.
"Developing the capacity of African scientists and other experts in areas such as developing market access for smallholder farmers, and deploying Australian advanced technology in helping farmers cope with impacts of climate change will be major facets of this initiative," said Persley.
The building of the centre will be preceded by an international conference on African food security, in the first half of 2012. The conference will bring together Australian and African researchers to identify opportunities for cooperation. 

The centre will eventually have a branch in an as-yet-unidentified African country. The priority of AICFS will be to achieve food and nutritional security but that it will in future phases move towards the commercialisation of smallholder agriculture.

Bio of Gabrielle Persley

Dr. Persley received her doctorate in microbiology at the University of Queensland, Australia. Her work is focused on the role of biotechnology in developing countries. She has published widely and is editor of a CAB International (CABI) published series of books on Agricultural Biotechnology. Her most recent publications are Meta review for the International Council for Science (ICSU) “New Genetics, Food and Agriculture- Scientific Discoveries—Societal Dilemmas” and “Biotechnology and Sustainable Development: Voices of the South and North”.

Dr. Persley spent several years in Washington DC as the biotechnology advisor to the World Bank, where she managed a number of biotechnology projects, in support of the applications of biotechnology in emerging economies. She is presently a member of the Steering Committee of the African Biosciences Facility, a NEPAD-sponsored center of excellence in biosciences, established on the campus of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Nairobi, Kenya.

12 ways how mobile technology can boost African agriculture

In a recent report, titled Connected Agriculture, Vodafone and Accenture identified 12 opportunities for mobile phone technology to increase agricultural income and productivity. Some of these platforms are already widely used in Africa, while others are still in the early stages of implementation.
1. Mobile payment systems
Mobile payment systems give farmers without access to financial services an inexpensive and secure way to transfer and save money using their mobile phones. By allowing smallholder farmers to save small amounts of money, receive payments quickly in times of need and pay for agricultural inputs via their phones, mobile payment systems replace costly traditional transfer services and the need to travel long distances to collect funds. They also provide a secure means for employers to distribute wages to agricultural workers, and for governments and NGOs to ensure agricultural subsidies go directly to farmers.
2. Micro-insurance systems
Mobile micro-insurance systems can safeguard farmers against losses when bad weather harms their harvest, encouraging them to buy better quality seeds and invest in fertiliser and other inputs. This can improve productivity and boost farmers’ livelihoods as well as enabling suppliers to expand their market among smallholder farmers. Delivering micro-insurance via mobile avoids challenges with conventional channels that can make insurance expensive. Remote monitoring of weather avoids the need for insurers to make farm visits. With mobile micro-insurance systems, farmers also benefit from quick, secure payouts using money transfer services.
3. Micro-lending platforms
Micro-lending platforms could connect smallholders in Africa with individuals elsewhere willing to provide finance to help the farmers to buy much-needed agricultural inputs. Mobile access to micro-lending platforms provides a free and secure way for rural borrowers to be matched to potential investors and gives existing microfinance providers access to those who need loans the most. Mobile payment records can be used as proof of credit history.
4. Mobile information platforms
Through mobile information platforms, farmers receive text messages with information that help to improve the productivity of their land and boost their incomes. Governments and agricultural support organisations can use the platforms to distribute information about available subsidies and programmes.
5. Farmer helplines
Farmers call a helpline and speak to agricultural experts who can provide answers to agricultural queries. The experts and researchers can use information on the issues raised to improve their understanding of agricultural trends and the challenges encountered by farmers in Africa.
6. Smart logistics
Smart logistics uses mobile technology to help distribution companies manage their fleets more efficiently – reducing costs for farmers and distributors, cutting fuel use and potentially preventing food losses. Devices in trucks communicate with a central hub via machine-to-machine (M2M) connections, providing information on truck movements. Logistics companies supporting input providers, agro-dealers or processors can combine this with information about delivery schedules, loads, trips planned, routes and number of pick-ups to minimise truck movements.
7. Traceability and tracking systems
Mobile technology can be used to track individual food products through the supply chain from grower to retailer. Detailed tracking improves supply chain efficiency and helps smallholder farmers, food distributors and retailers provide the traceability that is increasingly demanded by consumers. It can also help reduce food spoilage. Mobile phones can be used to log the location, quality and quantity of food items at key points in the supply chain. Agents buying products at a farm and workers at distribution centres can use mobile camera phones to scan product barcodes providing details of the items. This information is sent to a central system to give retailers, exporters and distributors a detailed view of product movements. This could help open access to new markets by meeting the requirements of the European Union, for example. Farmers can use the data to comply with certification standards such as Fairtrade and organic, and potentially charge higher prices for produce that complies with such standards.
8. Mobile management of supplier networks
Food buyers and exporters can use mobile phones to manage their networks of small-scale growers and help field agents collect information. Managing large numbers of small farms and growers requires networks of field agents, auditors and technical staff to gather a wide range of information. They carry out farm audits, check the quality and quantity of harvests, and report problems. Keeping detailed paper records for this information is inefficient, can be erratic and can lead to delayed decision making. Equipping field agents with mobile phones improves the supplier management process, providing a reliable, quick and cheap way of creating electronic records in a central database. Field agents visiting farms can use their mobile phones to input data on farmers’ locations, crops and expected yield. Farmers could also use mobiles to send information about their likely harvest date and other key indicators to food buyers and other organisations. Buyers and distributors could use this information to collect fresh food items more promptly and get them to market as soon as possible, reducing food waste and increasing agricultural incomes.
9. Mobile management of distribution networks
Distributors of farming inputs such as seeds and fertiliser could use mobile technology to gather sales and stock data, improving availability for farmers and increasing sales. It can be difficult for companies supplying agricultural inputs to monitor and manage their wide network of rural retailers. Communications and transport difficulties lead to information gaps. Retailers could record sales using a mobile camera phone to scan the barcode, sending this data straight to a central system for analysis. Building up a digital record of sales across a region could help distributors avoid supply gaps. Improved understanding of supply and demand could also help identify new market opportunities and tailor products to local needs.
10. Agricultural trading platforms
Linking smallholder farmers directly with potential buyers through a mobile trading platform could help them to secure the best price for their produce. Mobile trading platforms could help dealers locate new sources of food when supplies are limited and could help companies fulfil their commitment to sourcing from smaller and more diverse businesses.
11. Agricultural tendering platforms
Online platforms for submitting and bidding on tenders for food distribution, processing and exporting could make the agricultural supply chain more competitive and efficient. There are many distribution, processing and export agents in Africa and poor communications make it difficult to achieve competitive business contracts and tenders. Using mobile phones to access online tendering platforms could help users reach a wider supplier base and promote competition. For example, a food aggregator could advertise a tender to a processing facility. Distribution companies could browse tenders and submit their offers.
12. Agricultural bartering platforms
Mobile could help agricultural workers in rural areas exchange goods and services and improve communities’ livelihoods. For rural people with little or no disposable income, exchanging goods, services and skills with community members is an important part of their livelihoods. Using mobile, people could access an online bartering platform via their mobile phone, significantly extending the network of people to barter with. Users could register their location and the goods, services or skills they are offering, along with details of what they need in return. SMS adverts could be sent to subscribed users, prompting them to respond. Transient agricultural workers could also use the platform to advertise their skills and find work. Farm managers and owners could find workers at short notice, for instance when they need to harvest crops early to stop them being ruined by bad weather. Farmers could barter their surplus food items after a harvest so that food reaches community members in need, rather than spoiling in poor storage.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Innovations in Extension and Advisory Services

15-18 November 2011, Nairobi, Kenya. Over 400 academics, researchers, extension agents, farmers´ representatives, media experts, policy makers and representatives from international organizations and donors met in Nairobi to discuss innovations in extension and advisory services for food and livelihoods.

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU (CTA), the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), the Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services (GFRAS), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), the African Forum for Agricultural Advisory Services (AFAAS), the New Partnership for Africa’s Development Planning and Coordinating Agency (NEPAD Agency), the International Centre for development oriented Research in Agriculture (ICRA) and the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) in collaboration with several national, regional and international partners including the African Network for Agriculture, Agroforestry and Natural Resources Education (ANAFE), Biovision, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), the Ministry of Agriculture – Kenya, the European Initiative on Agricultural Research for Development (EIARD), the University of Nairobi, the University of the West Indies (UWI) and the University of the South Pacific (USP) organised this an international conference to take stock of current policies, thinking and practice, successes and failures of ongoing and past reforms in extension and advisory services and build a coalition moving forward to specifically address meeting the future needs of small-holder farmers, marginalized communities, women and youth in a sustainable and cost effective manner. This conference integrated the GFRAS 2nd annual conference.

“With the global population approaching nine billion by 2050, we need widespread adoption of farming practices that can sustainably increase yields in a changing climate to feed more people, while also creating new job and market opportunities to address high unemployment and poverty,” Michael Hailu, executive director of the Netherlands-based Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation, was quoted as saying in a statement by the organisation, which organised the conference.
“Smallholder farmers - particularly women - produce the bulk of food in developing countries, often under difficult circumstances,” he added. “National governments and international donors must redouble their efforts to boost smallholder agricultural production if we are to reverse persistent food insecurity and rural poverty.”
Some relevant presentations on multi-stakeholder consortia on ARD:

Farmer-managed innovation funds drive multi-stakeholder learning processes.
Ann Waters-Bayer is an agricultural sociologist with ETC AgriCulture in Leusden, Netherlands. She specialises in social and institutional aspects of research and development, especially innovation processes that enhance local capacities to adapt to change.

She is also team member in two European Community-funded projects: JOLISAA (Joint Learning in Innovation Systems in African Agriculture), which operates in Benin, Kenya and South Africa; and INSARD (Including Smallholders in Agricultural Research for Development), which involves NGOs and farmer organisations in Africa and Europe. She has (co-)authored several books and articles on pastoralist development and on innovation processes involving smallholders in Africa.

Empowering smallholder farmers in markets: experiences in collaborative research with national farmer organisations to improve pro-active advocacy for smallholder market access.
by Giel Ton, LEI Wageningen UR, Agrinatura

Extension, advisory services and capability building along the value chain: Do partnerships between farmers and exporters lead to learning and innovation?
Maurice Bolo, African Technology Policy Studies Network (ATPS)

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Impact of the breakthrough pigeonpea genome mapping on poor farmers

The International Crops Research for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and several partners, including China’sBGI-Shenzhen, have mapped the genome of the pigeonpea. The pigeonpea, or toor dāl in India, is an important food for millions of small farmers in semi-arid regions of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Often dubbed “poor man’s meat,” pigeonpeas are high in protein and amino acids, and flourish in dry, hot regions. The new knowledge of its gene sequence will be used to breed more productive, disease- and drought-resistant varieties of pigeonpea. This video from ICRISAT elaborates on the breakthrough and some of its implications.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Video-mediated farmer-to-farmer learning for sustainable agriculture

From June to September 2011, Agro-Insight conducted a scoping study for SDC, GFRAS and SAI Platform on the production, dissemination and use of farmer training videos in developing countries, with a focus on sustainable agriculture. Literature was consulted, the internet screened, experts and users consulted and a global on-line survey launched in English, French and Spanish.

The survey was announced via various listservs, websites and blogs (Association for International Agricultural and Extension Education; CTA; eRAILS; PAEPARD; FARA-net; FFSNet; KIT; LinkedIn Association for International Agriculture and Rural Development; Prolinnova E-group; Swiss Forum for Rural Advisory Services; and various regional farmer platforms such as ROPPA, PROPAC, EAFF).

The on-line survey, with more than 500 respondents, indicated that research institutes, universities and NGOs are better linked to professional networks and hence more easily reached through the internet than extension services, radio stations and farmer organizations. Although feedback from the food industry was relatively low, most SAI Platform members were represented.
  • There is a general consensus that farmers need good agricultural training videos, but they do not browse the web in search of them. For watching videos they rely mainly on outside agencies.
  • Farmers would watch videos on their own with their family or neighbours if video disc distribution mechanisms were in place. And they are willing to pay for video discs and video shows.
Only about 20% of all respondents have never used video to train farmers and have never searched the web for agricultural videos. Many of those didn’t know where to look for videos, hadn’t found videos on the right subject or hadn’t found videos in their local language.
“I have viewed many agricultural videos in YouTube no doubt they were interesting. But I found that they were not relevant to the conditions of the farmers where I am involved in capacity building.” A. Thimmaiah, National Organic Program, Bhuta
About 85% of the respondents found local languages very important for farmer training videos. To ensure that videos are sharable and of use to the global community of extension service providers and farmers, producing many poor quality local language videos is not cost-effective. The zoomingin, zooming-out (ZIZO) approach shows how to make regionally relevant and locally appropriate videos. Organizations are willing to translate and use videos made in other countries if they are relevant and of good quality, and if video scripts are available. Lower quality videos serve intermediaries only and are rarely used to actually train farmers. The five priority areas for new video productions are: crops and trees, water management, plant health, soil health and farmer organizations.

The report compares the pros and cons of key models of farmer-to-farmer video production and dissemination, and discusses the implications for future capacity building and how each model could contribute content to a global web-based platform.

Most (82%) public and private service providers are keen on the idea of a new web-based platform devoted to agricultural training videos only. Many people opposed including advocacy and opinion sharing, but suggested a type of a discussion forum for users of the platform to exchange experiences on video production and use.

To reach farmers with agricultural videos, a new web-based platform is required, but not sufficient. Efforts to link people with different professional backgrounds and to establish regional and national communication, translation and video disc distribution mechanisms have to be established.

A new not-for-profit organization, called Access Agriculture, is proposed to facilitate content creation and sharing of agricultural training videos through its web-based platform and an evolving network of linkages and experts. Institutional set up and operational models for Access Agriculture have been discussed with SDC, GFRAS and SAI Platform, but are not included in this report.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Innovation with Impact: Financing 21st Century Development

4 November. Gates presented his “Innovation with Impact: Financing 21st Century Development” report (pdf) to world leaders in Cannes attending the G20, outlining the steps that should be taken to bring about a fairer, more equal planet.
Outlining the value of international aid, and the lives saved by advances in innovation, he said:
“In the past 50 years, a billion people were saved from starvation by advances in agriculture. Health has improved in stunning ways, thanks to innovations like vaccines. In 1960, 20 million children under the age of 5 died. In 2010, fewer than 8 million children under 5 died. The world population more than doubled during this time, which means the rate of death has been cut by over 80 percent.
“Aid generosity has played an important role in these successes.”
On the importance of aid and the need for governments to maintain Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) in straitened times, he added:
Times, some people will say rich countries should cut their ODA. They should not. Not only because they have made promises, but also because important pieces of the development agenda won’t be addressed without assistance. ODA spurs innovation by funding pilot projects that poor countries would not undertake themselves
On innovation:
“Key innovations like new seeds and vaccines – and new ways to deliver them to the poorest – can multiply the impact of the resources we’re already devoting to development. We’ve made a big difference, but we can improve the basic tools of development by making them cheaper, easier to use, and more efficient – or by inventing wholly new tools.
“One of the newest resources for development – and potentially one of the most transformative – is rapidly growing countries’ capacity for innovation. Countries like Brazil, China, India, and Mexico are in a great position to work closely with poor countries because they have recent experience in reducing poverty, as well as enormous technical capabilities.”
The inspirational, life-saving examples of innovation and international cooperation cited by Gates in the field of agriculture include:
• A new variety of rice, specially bred to survive underwater, being grown by farmers in flood-prone areas of India where crops are regularly wiped out by standing water. In the next six years, up to 20 million farmers will plant the new varieties.
• Going back three decades, Brazil has been working with Japan to help poor farmers inMozambique grow soybeans.
• China has recently launched the “Green Super Rice” partnership, to help develop adapted varieties of rice with 15 poor countries in Africa and South Asia. Africa already accounts for approximately one-third of global rice imports and demand is growing – so helping African farmers increase rice production is critical for food security on the continent.
Gates concludes his report by saying:
“Scientific and technological innovations will allow us to solve problems that cause significant misery and hold societies back. A malaria vaccine, for example, would change the economic outlook for Sub-Saharan Africa. Better seeds for the crops that poor people rely on – cassava, maize, millet, rice, and sorghum – would feed billions, improve nutrition, and guarantee food security for the world.
“Another kind of innovation – a fundamental shift in the way we think about development – will provide amazing opportunities. It used to be that the world was, roughly speaking, one-third rich and two-thirds poor. Now, the absolute number and the proportion of dynamic, healthy, highly educated countries are much higher.
“That has been good for everybody, because it means a more prosperous and stable world. It also means that there are now more countries that have more to give to development. When I see the mix of countries around the G20 table, I am excited about our ability to capitalise on this… We can do much more to promote innovation for development.”

Tigray: Then and Now

1 nov 2011. Salim Amin, son of legendary Kenyan videographer Mo Amin, ventures to Tigray Ethiopia -- the place hardest hit by the 1984 famine; the place his dad captured his most iconic footage; and the place that has since been the site of smart, long term investments by governments, donors, and local communities. Drought is still a fact of life in Tigray - but famine is not. These programs have built resilience to drought and put communities on a path out of poverty. Salim meets locals who survived the 1984 drought, but are now successful farmers utilizing better techniques and infrastructure. Tigray is living proof of what long term agricultural programs can accomplish and show that famine does not have to be an inevitability.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Increasing Agricultural Productivity and Enhancing Food Security in Africa: New Challenges and Opportunities

The November 1–3 conference “Increasing Agricultural Productivity and Enhancing Food Security in Africa: New Challenges and Opportunities,” was co-organized by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the African Union Commission (AUC), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), and the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA). Speakers and participants showcased opportunities to improve agricultural productivity and explored how they can be effectively implemented through the framework of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme.

Experts at the conference also examined issues related to:
  • science, technology, and innovation in agriculture;
  • rural services and access to inputs;
  • markets, trade, and regional integration and value chains;
  • investments, institutions, and policies for supporting agriculture;
  • agriculture, nutrition, and health linkages;
  • agriculture and climate change mitigation and adaptation;
  • capacity development for agriculture through education and training; and
  • the nexus of agriculture and the rural nonfarm sector in growth and poverty reduction
The keynote address - ‘harnessing the potential of science and the numbers’ was given by FARA’s Monty Jones. He emphasized the need for ‘radical approaches’ and ‘radical actions.’ Africa should come up with its own unique interventions, he said, and listen to the voices of the 600 million African farmers.

Stephen Muchiri of the Eastern Africa Farmers Federation said:

“The major challenge in increasing agriculture productivity in Africa is low agro investment, markets are not well developed, there are market restrictions, farmers can’t easily access the market, and they don’t have power to have their own markets. If there is no access to markets, the entire value chain will be affected. Markets are the way to boost research, input, credit facilities and risk mitigation. When farmers are involved in value chains they are going to be able to access market information that helps them prepare their production in ways that suit market demand.”
Keynote Speech by Yusuf Abubakar, ARCN. Strengthening capacity for agricultural science and technology in Africa

Keynote Speech by Namanga Ngongi, AGRA. Delivering African agricultural productivity and food security through a Green Revolution: prospects and challenges