When things come to an end, it is inevitable that one begins to look to the future.
Several things came to an end this week: The 6th Africa Agriculture Science Week (AASW6) in Accra, Ghana, for one, just closed the curtains on a frenzied week of activity; Professor Monty Jones, outgoing Executive Director of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), officially handed over the reins to his successor at the end of the same week; and, well, France quashed England’s run for a women’s Euros football championship with a 3-0 win, if anyone was keeping track.
The third item aside, what do these other finales mean for the future of FARA, and for the future of its most anticipated triennial event, the AASW?
Value chains link production and competition
In an interview at AASW6, Professor Jones left no doubt as to where we should be heading in agricultural research for development (AR4D), and not just for FARA but for the whole continent. “For a long time in Africa,” said Professor Jones, “all we were thinking of was production, production, production. We have to start thinking beyond that now.”
He was referring to the evolution of the concept of integrated AR4D, that is, research that leans on the principles of the value chain approach to technology generation, dissemination and adoption. The value chain includes everyone: researchers, extension officers, producers, consumers, businessmen, and policy makers. The idea is for these actors to join together and create platforms to advise the agricultural sector.
Professor Jones gave a practical example: “In one instance we stimulated the increase in production of sorghum in Uganda by 60%. In fact, there was such an increase that farmers could no longer sell all their produce.”
If farmers are given all the input and support in the world, remarked Professor Jones, but at the end of the day can’t even sell what they produce, then what good is it?
So, he continued, “The platform came together to say, why not add value to the product? They got Makerere University and the private sector involved, and they ended up producing a beverage they called Mamera drink that they started selling in supermarkets.” At the end of the day, everyone went home a winner.
The point, concluded Professor Jones, is that, sure, FARA and its partners should think of increasing productivity. “But they should also be thinking of the competitiveness of the system. We’re starting to move away from farming just for subsistence now, so we have to think about more than just productivity.” Labor efficiency. Quality of produce. Food safety. Processing. Handling. Exporting. That’s the future of African agriculture.
But it’s the human connections that make it all possible
Perhaps the most pressing question as AASW6 draws to a close is, what is the value of such an event for furthering the goals that Professor Jones mentions?
You might say that it’s something to the same tune as the integration called for FARA’s value chain approach to AR4D. Linking people, forging partnerships, and “ensuring that everyone that wants to participate in African agriculture is included in the process of identifying the key issues” is where the true value of the AASW6 conference lies, in Professor Jones’ opinion.
Indeed, FARA’s future direction was never more clearly laid out than during AASW6, which served as the venue for the definition of the Forum’s new science agenda for the coming years. The agenda includes, for the first time, the key content and type of science that will need to be undertaken in the short, medium and long term to be able to feed Africa, and feed the rest of the world as well.
“Our challenge,” asserted Professor Jones, “is to recognize the fact that Africa cannot feed itself today, but that it must do everything it can to be able to feed the 2 billion Africans that will be here by 2050.”
If AASW6 was any indication, then making the right connections – be they human connections or links in a value chain – is the only way to proceed towards that noble goal.
Blogpost by Caity Peterson, a social media reporter for AASW6.
Photo: P. Karaimu (ILRI)