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A new roadmap for CIAT in Africa

A new roadmap outlining CIAT’s strategic vision for Africa 2017–2020 was launched in 2017. It highlights the organization’s goal in the region: to promote more productive, profitable agriculture and healthier diets at no environmental cost by providing a scientific basis for development investments and policies.

“While sub-Saharan Africa is undergoing rapid transformation, with intensification of agriculture on smaller plots of land and with urbanization affecting agricultural innovation in rural areas, the shift represents great opportunities for the continent,” said CIAT Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Debisi Araba.

“But reaching the continent’s potential requires innovative science to ensure agriculture is competitive, efficient, and sustainable, that it produces healthy, affordable food for all, while not adversely affecting the ecosystems and landscapes upon which we all depend.”

Four themes to drive agricultural progress in Africa

Theme 1: Leveraging markets through improved productivity and competitiveness

To run successful and profitable agricultural businesses, smallholder farmers need improved crop varieties, good quality and affordable seed, organized channels to sell their produce, and access to market information, among many other things.

Yet too often, they find themselves trapped in a vicious cycle: low-quality seed and inadequate agricultural practices leading to low productivity. CIAT has the world’s largest collection of common bean and tropical livestock grass seeds. By protecting and improving this collection, our research aims to both improve seeds and get them to more farmers, especially by partnering with the private sector and agribusiness for example.

Theme 2: Agriculture for improved nutrition

Africa is the only continent in the world where poverty and malnutrition are on the rise. Agriculture is a source of nutritious food and income, enabling families, especially women, to afford diverse foods and services, such as better healthcare. Families can also build more resilient, healthy families by diversifying the food they grow on their farm.

CIAT will generate evidence and support investment in nutritious diets, including ways to track malnutrition before it becomes a crisis, putting in place a firm plan to help families put more nutritious food on the table.

Using big data and machine learning to power a Nutrition Early Warning System (NEWS) for Africa

Since at least the 1970s, food crises have seemed to strike sub-Saharan Africa with frequency. Yet, it’s malnutrition and its consequences that is the enduring problem. While one in nine people in the world today is malnourished, in sub-Saharan Africa, it is one in four. Malnutrition is arguably Africa’s biggest impediment to sustained, equitable economic growth. In response, CIAT is developing a Nutrition Early Warning System, or NEWS, a system that will take advantage of the latest advances in “machine learning” to process a constant flow of data relevant to food and nutrition. By mining the data, NEWS will provide two key outputs: an early warning system to alert decision-makers of nutrition threats well ahead of a crisis; and ongoing surveillance to provide multiple options for nutrition interventions. CIAT is currently working to develop a prototype, which will initially analyze the nutritional status of populations in selected countries in sub-Saharan Africa to find options for successful interventions.

To end hunger in Africa, nutritionists must team up with civil society
by Mercy Lung’aho, CIAT nutritionist

[This opinion piece was first published by Zilient.org.]

News out late last year on the state of global hunger provided troubling updates on much of Africa.

Despite progress throughout the continent over the last decade, the 2017 issue of the Global Hunger Index (GHI), which measures progress and failures in the global fight against hunger, found that six countries in Africa were rated as having alarming or extremely alarming hunger situations. The only non-African country in this group was Yemen.

This is disheartening because Africa is also the only region in the world where malnutrition is on the rise. Africa is home to 22 out of 34 countries with the most children suffering from malnutrition, and governments are losing up to 16.5 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) annually as a result of poor nutrition.

As a nutritionist, I cannot look the other way while women and children are dying of poor nutrition on our watch. And I believe that despite this grim portrait, we can end hunger and malnutrition. To do this, however…
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Theme 3: Transforming farms and landscapes for sustainability

About two-thirds of Africa’s land is degraded, while three percent of the gross domestic product is lost annually from soil and nutrient depletion from farmland. Strategies are needed to increase agricultural production without putting more pressure on our natural resources: soils, land, water – at no expense to farmers’ livelihoods – especially the livelihoods of women.

Our research aims to make farms and whole landscapes more resilient and sustainable, providing information about how to improve soil, water, and natural resource management, while building up data and the information base to address landscape damage at a bigger scale.

CIAT’s strategic initiative on the restoration of degraded lands

Restoration of degraded lands is an important component of climate change mitigation and adaptation schemes, poverty reduction efforts, actions to improve ecosystem services, and programs aimed at ensuring food security. Initiatives such as AFR100 are working to mobilize resources in Africa and attract the private sector to take actions to the scale needed to properly address the problem. To be effective, these programs need innovative approaches and require scientific support and backstopping. CIAT research will address key issues that include: (i) Developing effective policy interventions and integration of restoration objectives in national policy frameworks; (ii) Supporting improved design of restoration projects by learning lessons from first-generation restoration activities; (iii) Developing standardized, widely accepted, credible, and scientifically sound methodologies for restoring degraded ecosystems that can be adapted to local conditions; and (iv) Supporting countries and projects to develop and use efficient approaches for monitoring and measuring the social and environmental benefits of these efforts.

Theme 4: Investment planning for resilient agriculture

Climate change and variability put crop productivity at risk, and make pest and disease outbreaks more likely to increase. Small-scale farmers in Africa are particularly vulnerable, and need help to make their farms more resilient.

We will generate and share robust evidence of the risks associated with climate change – and importantly, the opportunities to address these – especially by generating evidence and options to guide investments in climate resilience.

Building more resilient African food systems, from farm to table
By Jamleck Oroko Osiemo, Climate-smart agriculture Specialist at CIAT

The way we produce food has never been more complicated. Intricate systems govern not just how much and what type of food we’re able to grow globally, but how much of it ends up on our table, and how much we will pay for it.

Climate change poses a real threat to food systems, particularly in Africa, where agriculture is inextricably linked to the whims of the weather. Yet solutions for a more resilient food system, able to withstand climate shocks, often fail to address the problem in its entirety.

In my conversations with farmers, communities say they need long-term solutions to climate threats, not just emergency responses to imminent threats. But we can’t do this if we focus on single value chains, or one commodity: climate change affects every aspect of the food system.

Food systems encompass everything from drought-tolerant seeds to food waste, to policies that provide a favorable environment to make crop exports possible. These are all parts of the same puzzle, and they all face the very holistic threat climate change poses to our food supply.

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Climate-smart agriculture profiles to guide investments in three more African countries

In 2017, 3 climate-smart agriculture country profiles were published for Zambia, Tanzania, and Mozambique.

The climate-smart agriculture country profiles belong to a series of publications containing a brief yet comprehensive overview of the agricultural context and challenges in each country through a climate-smart agriculture lens, and provides a snapshot of the key issues, climate impacts, CSA practices, relevant policies, and financing opportunities for scaling up the promotion and adoption of CSA interventions along specific value chains and in different agro-ecological regions.

So far profiles have been developed in Africa for Kenya, Rwanda, Senegal, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, and Uganda and are currently being developed for Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, and Niger.

Power of partnerships

The roadmap is built within the context of priorities that both public and private actors can invest in, and set within the framework of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It highlights the power of partnerships. The private sector, NGOs, governments, development partners, and farmers will remain vital to our work.

As well as involving partners closely in the research process, CIAT’s research findings aim to help them make informed investments in agriculture, prioritizing limited resources for a healthier, wealthier continent.

The Pan-African Bean Research Alliance (PABRA)

The development and dissemination of new bean technologies in Africa is orchestrated by the Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance (PABRA), which is coordinated by CIAT and unites 30 member countries.

The alliance was formed in 1996 as a collaborative mechanism with joint ownership for bean research between national agricultural research systems (NARS), CIAT, and principal donors. Thanks to PABRA, capacity in bean research in the NARS has been developed and maintained over time in Africa.
In 2017 PABRA celebrated 20 years.