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[GABORONE] Southern Africa's agricultural research could become better coordinated and funded, following the launch of a regional research centre in Botswana.

The Centre for Coordination of Agricultural Research and Development for Southern Africa, which will become operational next week (23 August), will promote the creation and dissemination of new research and technology for improved food security in the region.

It was launched during a meeting of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) ministers in Gaborone last month (11–14 July).

"This will be a coordinating system facilitating research," said Keoagile Molapong, the SADC's senior programme officer for agricultural research and development.

Specifically, the centre — which is housed at the Ministry of Agriculture's headquarters — will coordinate implementation of the SADC Multi-country Agricultural Productivity Programme (SADC MAPP) themes. One of the SADC MAPP's main goals is to strengthen links among agricultural institutions in the region.

The centre will provide competitive funds for research, identify research programmes, and help coordinate and share projects to avoid duplication, Molapong told SciDev.Net.

Mompati Merafhe, Botswana's vice president, said at the launch: "[The centre] must generate useful technologies to drive both smallholders' and commercial farming interests".

The centre will work under SADC, but will have autonomy on the management of its finances. Some US$40 million will be provided to it over the next five years by cooperating partners including the UK Department for International Development and the World Bank.

Said Silim, Eastern and Southern Africa director for the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, said the centre was a good opportunity to allow SADC countries, which do not have the same strengths, to complement one another.

"This will also reduce duplication of efforts as well as lead to faster release of varieties as the technologies will be shared," he said, adding that this will help technologies to reach farmers across the region.

But he warned that policymakers and governments should be brought on board so that funding does not only depend on external donors.