29 January 2013 | EN
The partnership will focus on Africa's 'most pressing agricultural challenges'
[NAIROBI] An international agricultural research programme has unveiled plans to collaborate with the African Union to drive agricultural research and boost productivity on the continent.
The collaboration will support the efforts of African research institutes at the country, sub-regional and continental level to realise science-based agricultural transformations and advance science and technology agendas, says Piers Bocock, director of knowledge management and communications at the CGIAR Consortium.
"In addition to developing capacity and sharing knowledge, the memorandum will facilitate the sharing of existing scientific and technological breakthroughs," Bocock tells SciDev.Net.
The CGIAR Consortium is a global partnership that brings together 15 of the world's leading agriculture research centres and that also leads 16 comprehensive global agricultural research programmes addressing food security.
The consortium will work to improve its coordination with governmental agricultural strategies and the AUC's Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), which aims to boost African agriculture by addressing policy and capacity issues in the sector.
"By understanding the priorities of African governments, we can ensure that our research is focused on the most pressing agricultural challenges in Africa," Bocock says.
Abebe Haile Gabriel, the AUC's director of rural economy and agriculture, says the memorandum "calls for joint actions to guide the implementation of programmes and support activities for the CAADP," while noting that the agreement does not include any financial exchange.
But collaborations such as this also raise a number of potentially challenging issues, says Maurice Bolo, director of the Scinnovent Centre, a Nairobi-based research and training organisation focused on science and innovation.
Bolo is keen to know, for example, how the partnership plans to tap into existing regional centres of excellence that were created under the New Partnership for Africa’s Development's (NEPAD) Consolidated Plan of Action (CPA) on Africa’s Science and Technology
"This cooperation may further undermine intra-African networking or cooperation, which is already suffering, and there is little attention given to programmatic synergies with other continental initiatives, such as the CPA," he says.
Bolo adds that there is very little collaboration between scientists in different African countries, and that this does not augur well for attempts aimed at increasing such collaboration.
He also expresses concern that the new memorandum does not focus sufficiently on agricultural innovation, a deficiency that he feels is common across the continent.
"Research and development products have stagnated in laboratories, whether at the CGIAR or African research institutes, and any new collaboration should give attention to moving these products into use or commercialisation," Bolo says.
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.
Sipho ( South Africa )
1 February 2013
I understand that the AU is attracted to the idea of partnering with the CGIAR.
However,there is a serious downside to this partnership. It gives the CGIAR credibility and allows it to compete for funding with the NARs, for a finite pool of external funding. (Also on SciDevNet at the moment is an article discussing the lack of funding for NARs).
The CGIAR competes directly with the NARs for funding from the Gates Foundation, the EU, etc.
But the agenda of the CGIAR is governed by their own self-interests, and not by the needs of African agriculture.
The primary agenda of the CGIAR is not focused on the needs of African farmers - it is focused on self-preservation.
Hartmann ( United States of America )
5 February 2013
It does not surprise that such a generic and top down agreement between the CGIAR’s Consortium and the African Union would raise so many issues. Some of the issues are rather fundamental, but most might be a result of not knowing about the Consortium. By design the Consortium is neither a research nor a funding body. It was created to represent the centers to donors and manage research programs (currently 16 or so) that the CGIAR members fund. The research is done by the centers which are legally independent bodies and which also conduct research that is not CGIAR funded.
A more effective path for a national research body seeking to leverage its capabilities is to identify a center or centers that suit its research mandate and encourage its scientist to cultivate a relation with scientists at that center. Center scientists are deeply engaged with national scientists on almost all their projects. In fact they seek and strongly protect their relations with national scientists. Some of these relations date back decades.
To illustrate there is a major crop research program (SARD-SC) funded by the African Development Bank that is underway. It came onboard with the blessing of numerous African governments, NARS and the African Union. It is being implemented by AfricaRice, ICARDA and IITA. It is truly a Pan-African initiative covering cassava, maize, rice, and wheat and it has a multitude of national scientists from NARS and universities involved from Cairo to Capetown and from Dakar to Daressalaam.
Mr. Bolo raises additional concerns about the utility of such generic agreements. His questions go beyond collaboration with the international research centers. It is true that collaboration between African scientists could increase but it is hard to see how cooperation with an international research center undermines Continental cooperation. If well thought through, it should complement nicely since the roles are quite distinct.
Hartmann ( United States of America )
5 February 2013
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