[NAIROBI] 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.
Australian prime minister Julia Gillard announced the establishment of the centre last month (28 October). 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.
ACIAR told SciDev.Net that the centre will eventually have a branch in an as-yet-unidentified African country.
She added that 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.
Daniel Mreli, an agriculture expert with the Sumitomo Corporation in Kenya, said the initiative was good for Africa.
"[Australia is] well advanced and [has] a lot of knowledge in arid-land agriculture, including livestock systems," he said.
But he warned that governments and institutions must ensure they pass on what they learn to farmers if anything is to come of the initiative.