15
Sun, Sep
3 New Articles

PLANT GENETICIST ADVISES POLITICAL LEADERS TO INVEST IN RESEARCH TOWARDS A “GREEN AFRICA”

General News

The founding director of the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement, Professor Eric Danquah, has advocated that African governments invest in research institutions and universities in order to achieve the green revolution they are seeking.

The founding director of the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement, Professor Eric Danquah, has advocated that African governments invest in research institutions and universities in order to achieve the green revolution they are seeking.

He argues that strengthening higher education is the way to achieve this aim, citing examples of Western universities which have changed their society through their research.

Innovation

“Innovation comes from universities and research institutions and until governments wake up to that reality, that is an investment in the value chain which will never see the light in Africa,” he said.

Professor Danquah made this call at the press launch for the Improved Seeds Improve Lives Report, compiled by Seeds Systems Group (SSG), at a preliminary event during the ninth African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) 2019, which ends today in Accra.

Touching on the government’s flagship Planting for Food and Jobs programme, he said in order for Ghana to derive the maximum benefit from this, the initiative must be supported by research and development.

“We have to make investments which will cost the nation, so we can benefit from innovation … We have to develop our tomato varieties and stop importing from elsewhere; we have to develop our value chain so that our rice production gets to the market.
“We have to also ensure that there is good science in universities so that we can have new products,” he said.

Professor Danquah said the state should provide sufficiently generous funding to achieve an effective impact in return.

Report

The report is based on the experiences of 15 African countries which partnered with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) in 2009 to drive the first wave of growth for African seed industries.

With the successes achieved since then, the authors anticipate that a similar approach will transform food production and economic fortunes in some of the continent’s poorest countries.

The 15 SSG focus countries are Angola, Benin, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Guinea, Madagascar, Niger, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.

The study’s analysis reveals that even if only one-third of all the farmers in the 15 countries were able to obtain improved seed, they could generate an additional 25 million tonnes of food worth US$4 billion.

Seed deficit

Currently, standard reuse of seed for the same low-yielding and often disease-ridden crop varieties make it impossible for poor smallholder farmers to improve the nutritional quality of their crops.

“The result is stalled economic growth and widespread hunger and malnutrition, made more acute by the increasing extremes of climate that grip many farming communities,” the report says.

It shows how Ghana, for instance, has gone from just three companies producing about 128 tonnes of seed to eight companies producing about 6,000 tonnes.

“Much of that is seed for ‘hybrids’ – conventionally bred (non-GMO) varieties that offer superior yields and better disease resistance because they naturally carry the best traits from both ‘parent’ plants,” the report says.

Before these companies arrived on the scene, farmers in Ghana had very little access to any kind of hybrid crops.

Microsoft partnership

At another preliminary session under the AGRF summit, AGRA and Microsoft signed an agreement jointly to support agriculture digitisation in Africa, starting with Ghana and Kenya.

AGRA will improve its existing programmes and develop new ones to drive the course while Microsoft will make available its digital capabilities to provide technological support.

AGRA’s vice-president for country support and delivery, Vanessa Adams, and Amrote Abdella, African regional director for Microsoft, signed the agreement yesterday at a press conference at the Forum.

No cost

Ms Adams said the agreement comes without financial commitments and involves transfer of knowledge to help the various countries scale up their turnover in agriculture for a turnaround of their economies.

The partners envisage the development of technological solutions through the partnership which will ensure land optimisation and improve food security. AGRA has already started some work in this regard in Kenya.

“This partnership will help improve outputs. We are looking for ways to make agriculture more profitable for smallholder farmers,” she said.

Ms Abdella emphasised digital innovation’s potentially positive impact as a tool for agriculture, and gave her assurance that the impact of the collaboration will be significant for agriculture in Africa.

SSG officials at the launch of the report