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[IBADAN, NIGERIA] I know across Africa, presidents are repositioning their policies to reflect agriculture as the new engine for growth, and are also changing strategies that considered agriculture as a social obligation to a business enterprise.
In Nigeria, for instance, the president launched the green alternative with an agricultural transformation agenda to show how important the administration prioritises agriculture.
But scientists and researchers at a three-day workshop at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Nigeria this week (15-17 November) are discussing the role of systems research in the continent’s quest for food self-sufficiency and security.

Systems research could transform the continent’s agriculture because it creates the necessary platform for scientists and researchers to think and work with policymakers and farmers.

Alex Abutu

Nteranya Sanginga, director-general of IITA, told the audience at the meeting that the biggest challenge the institute faces on the continent is providing answers to leaders who seek their knowledge on how to transform their agriculture.
“I received senators from Nigeria last week who came asking for how to transform the nation’s agriculture. I was also with the president of Benin who asked the same question. So how can this happen? Are there things we are doing that aren’t working or what lessons are we failing to put to use?” he posed.
Scientists and researchers at the meeting, to me, are of the view that systems research could transform the continent’s agriculture because it creates the necessary platform for scientists and researchers to think and work with policymakers and farmers to solve the challenges they face.
Kwesi Atta-Krah, IITA director of CGIAR Research Program on agricultural research systems for humid tropics, says that agriculture in Africa is currently plagued by low capacity, institutional bottlenecks and biological challenges that require the convergence of various systems and components to solve. “We have to link research to policies, with societal needs and aspirations … and this require an integrated and multi-stakeholders approach where research can speak directly to challenges,” Attah-Krah says. Atta-Krah adds that system research is not just about yield or bumper harvests but it focuses on considering all the variables involved in agriculture for farmers’ overall wellbeing.
But as good as the idea of systems research may sound, Asamoah Larbi, IITA's country representative in Ghana and a farming systems agronomist, notes that it is not new, and that l it will not solve all the continent’s agricultural challenges.
Larbi says what Africa needs to transform its agriculture is to strengthen and adequately fund its national agriculture research institutions to enable them do what is necessary.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.

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