Cutting-edge science creating solutions for African agriculture

February 19th, 2012
We are frequently reminded of the complex challenges Africa faces when it comes to feeding its population, particularly in the sub-Saharan region. Dealing with hunger and famine – let alone broader food security issues – is paramount and needs a global effort. Overcoming these challenges in the longer term is equally important, but more complex, and requires increased efforts in research and development.

A re-invigorated effort to boost African science know-how to solve Africa's challenges has begun. With international funding, the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub (BecA-ILRI Hub) based in Nairobi, Kenya and managed by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) is enabling African and international scientists to partner on a wide range of new and exciting research programs. Most of these research programs focus on both animal and crop health for better productivity under challenges including diseases and abiotic stresses.

With help from its global investors – the Australian Government's Agency for International Development (AusAID), CSIRO - Australia's national science agency, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture and the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs (through the Swedish International Cooperation Development Agency) – the BecA-ILRI Hub has set up a unique capacity building fund, referred to as the Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) for African scientists. The ABCF enables African scientists from across Africa to access the world-class research facilities and scientific support skills to progress their research.

"The BecA-ILRI Hub is about helping Africans deal with Africa's underlying issues with food production, nutrition and animal health – by investing in our scientists and students" says Dr Segenet Kelemu, Director of the BecA-ILRI Hub.

"Unless we address these fundamental issues by working with farmers on the ground in Africa and boost the science and technology capacity of our African research through our scientific institutions and initiatives like the ABCF, we'll never solve the crises that are happening across Africa" adds Dr Kelemu.

"So many of our talented African scientists leave Africa to progress their careers and don't come back to Africa, finding opportunities elsewhere in the world. This is a big problem for Africa" says Dr Appolinaire Djikeng, Senior Scientist and Technology Manager at the BecA-ILRI Hub.

Dr Djikeng adds "these scientists are some of Africa's best, working on extremely important issues directly related to food security and income generation in the region. The ABCF makes it possible to solve these regional issues, here in Africa." Projects include investigations of the spread of African swine fever, breeding improved varieties of orphan crops like Enset (commonly called 'false banana'), and conserving and better using Africa's native livestock diversity, such as its indigenous chickens. These projects are being led by scientists from national programs and universities in sub‐Saharan Africa.

"There's a massive opportunity in Africa to be able to increase yields and increase farmers' access to infrastructure and markets – to enable a transition out of poverty and hunger. That's what the BecA-ILRI Hub is doing along with the support from its partners – and it's very exciting" says Dr Kelemu.

Provided by Biosciences Eastern and Central Africa Hub

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