Leading experts in agriculture say that innovative research and capacity building could help Africa respond to development challenges such as food security and climate change.
But experts add that the continent is deficient in biosciences specialists, especially those with expertise in genomics.
Biosciences is a term that describes several biology-related disciplines such as agriculture, biochemistry, biotechnology, medicine and genomics.
“Our work at BecA-ILRI Hub is helping us appreciate the role of technology in transforming lives.”
Alexander Bombom, BecA-ILRI Hub
Jimmy Smith, the director-general of the Kenya-headquartered International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), points out that the continent has enormous opportunities to transform itself by mobilising biosciences.
Smith addressed the experts during the 15th anniversary of ILRI’s Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub (BecA-ILRI) in Kenya last month (3 February).
The hub aims at strengthening African research capacity building in agriculture, knowledge and innovation systems to achieve food and nutrition security, and increase research in crop improvement, livestock productivity, food safety, climate change mitigation and sustainable environmental management.
“We need more innovations for science breakthroughs from Africa, not just consuming science,” says Segenet Kelemu, the director-general of the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe), headquartered in Kenya. Kelemu adds that Africa can develop through locally-driven innovations that meet local demands.
Noting that research facilities have been a challenge to the growth of biosciences in Africa, Kelemu calls for more capacity building and strengthening of national research and development organisations to produce innovations to address current and emerging challenges in agriculture.
David Angell, the Canadian high commissioner to Kenya, commended the partnership of Canada, ILRI and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) for creating BecA-ILRI to accelerate research within African national agricultural systems.
According to Angell, BecA-ILRI has allowed African researchers to conduct important research for the continent, thus reducing the need for scientists to go abroad to conduct research.
Willy Bett, Kenya’s cabinet secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, says: “There is an increasing recognition of the role of agriculture in achieving sustainable development.”
For Ibrahim Mayaki, the chief executive officer of NEPAD, agriculture remains the key to improved livelihoods and the building of resilient economies. Mayaki says that in the next three decades, the world will have to produce food equivalent to what has been produced over the last 3,000 years, which poses a huge challenge.
“With its competitive advantage of arable land, Africa can achieve food security,” Mayaki observes, adding that innovation backed by science and technology in agriculture is critical to ensuring food security. The NEPAD chief executive urges governments to design policies informed by science and increase investments in biosciences that focus on rural smallholder farmers to help transform agricultural systems. Ruth Wanyera, a principal scientist at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO), tells SciDev.Net that mentoring young scientists is helping build capacity in Kenya. “This mentoring is helping transform communities, especially those in rural areas through education,” says Wanyera, adding that she is using her experience from BecA-ILRI to mentor six students from Kenyan universities.
Alexander Bombom, a Ugandan research scientist who is also the lead scientist for BecA’s sorghum-maize hybrid project, tells SciDev.Net: “Our work at BecA-ILRI Hub is helping us appreciate the role of technology in transforming lives.”
Bombom notes that the BecA-ILRI Hub is aiding innovations that are key to addressing common agricultural challenges in Africa, and calls for increased international and South-South collaborations.
Bombom also urges the training more women scientists to boost sustainable development.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.