​Integrated Agric Research Systems Key to Africa’s Transformation – IITA DG

Agriculture

Integrated systems research approach in agriculture is key to sustainable transformation in Africa with benefits including increase in yields and livelihoods improvement of resource-poor farmers, according to the Director General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Dr Nteranya Sanginga.

The systems approach places the farmer at the center and develops an understanding of the farm-household, the environment in which he/she operates, and the constraints he/she faces; together with identifying and testing potential solutions to those constraints. It also involves the dissemination of the most promising solutions to other farm households facing similar problems.

Dr Sanginga threw his support to systems researchduring his welcome address to participants at the“Systems Marketplace” workshop held 15-17 November at IITA Ibadan. The meeting was  organized by the CGIAR Humidtropics program, in partnership with the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA).

The IITA boss reiterated IITA’s strong history with and commitment to integrated systems research,  adding that even though CGIAR would no longer fund standalone systems research programs in its new portfolio, IITA would continue to support systems research and site integration efforts to successfully help with Africa’s agricultural transformation agenda.

According to him, “the work of the Humidtropics program has been shown to be very important for improving livelihoods of smallholder farmers, which is attracting the interest of governments and some key donors.”

Dr Kwesi Atta-Krah, Director of the Integrated Systems on Humidtropics program said system thinking was the way to go. “If we want transformation in Africa, we must approach issues in the agricultural sector with systems thinking because the African farmer thinks systems—on his farm, he plants cassava, yam, vegetables and name it. It is not just a single crop that he plants,” he explained.

More than 100 participants including leaders and researchers at the CGIAR System, Center and Program levels, representing subject, organizational and cultural variety attended the 3-day Marketplace workshop. For three intensive and productive days they shared their knowledge and experiences to facilitate integration of systems thinking, tools, methods, approaches and partnerships in other Research for Development (R4D) initiatives.

Presenting an independent and general perspective on systems research in the new CGIAR Research Programs (CRPs) portfolio, Professor Maggie Gill, Chair of the ISPC (Independent Science and Partnership Council) CGIAR, mentioned that she was at the event to learn what systems research products were on offer, how new CRPs integrate systems approaches to enhance their contribution to achieving the development outcomes outlined in the CGIAR strategy and results framework.

Dr Peter Gardiner from the CGIAR System Organization said the systems work done by the Humidtropics collected tools that would be mainstreamed into the new programs.

Offgrid Innovation Impacting Rural Development, Climate Resilience Across Central America, Others

Energy

PUNTA CANAAt an international workshop organised by the Smart Villages Initiative and the Academy of Sciences of the Dominican Republic there was unanimous agreement on the potential of renewable energy in its various forms—solar, wind, biomass and mini-hydro—to play a major role in both rural development and enhancing the climatic resilience of off-grid communities in Central America, the Caribbean, and Mexico.

According to Dr. John Holmes, Co-Leader of the Smart Village Initiative, the workshop exceeded expectations: “While our main initial focus was on how off-grid solutions could help the over 10 million people in the region without any electricity access, three other issues rapidly became apparent during the presentations and ensuing discussions. 

Firstly, from Nicaragua to Nevis, there are numerous examples of off-grid energy already being used beyond domestic needs to power productive uses such as improving agricultural productivity. Secondly, the whole region is highly susceptible to natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and flooding, and new constantly-evolving off-grid energy generation and management technologies could greatly increase the resilience of rural communities. Thirdly, we were surprised given our experience in other areas of the world that pay as you go was not being used to help poorer communities acquire solar home systems. We are now planning follow-up activities on individual issues and will end by drawing up policy recommendations for regional and national governments on improving access and ensuring its benefits are fully exploited.”

Workshop topics included: renewable energy and energy efficiency for rural economic development and for improving social services (health and education); access to energy for risk management against natural disasters; renewable energy to increase local energy security; opportunities and challenges for the private sector in the rural electrification sector; and regulatory framework for rural electrification.

International organisations participating included the United Nations Development Programme; the World Bank; the Inter-American Development Bank; GIZ; and the University of California, Berkeley. Participants from the region included the Latin American Energy Organisation (OLADE); the Inter-American Network of Academies of Sciences (IANAS); the Energy Network Foundation; the Caribbean Association of Sustainable Energy Managers; the Caribbean Centre for Renewable Energy and Efficiency (CCREEE), Barbados; the Hinterland Electrification Company, Guyana; ACCIONA Microenergia, Mexico; the National Autonomous University of Mexico; and the Renewable Energy Producers, Guatemala.

Dominican Republic representatives include the National Energy Commission (CNE); the Ministry for Education, Focal Point Energy IANAS-ACRD; Programa de Pequeños Subsidios; Universidad APEC UNAPEC; Electric Consortium; Diagnostic Centre for Advanced Medicine and Telemedicine (CEDMAT); and Latino Academia Latino Americana Superior.

A report on the workshop will be published on the website http://www.e4sv.org

Biosafety Regulation Assures Safety, Builds Confidence, Says NBMA Boss

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​By Abdallah el-Kurebe 

The Director General of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), Dr. Rufus Ebegba ‎has declared that Nigeria’s Biosafety regulation of modern biotechnology and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) was crucial for safety assurance and confidence building for Nigerians.

‎He stated this at the 2nd National Biosafety Conference (NBC), which held in Abuja on November 10th‎.

According to him, “the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), an Agency under the Federal Ministry of Environment, came into being on the 18th April, 2015 with the aim to provide a regulatory framework, institutional and administrative mechanisms for safety measures in the application of modern biotechnology in Nigeria, with the view to preventing any adverse effect on human health, animals, plants and environment.‎”

Jointly organised by the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) and the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC), with ‎a theme: “Biosafety, Food Security and Economic Development in Nigeria,” the conference was aimed to “emphasise the importance of effective biosafety regulation to food security and socio-economic development in the application of modern biotechnology in Nigeria.”

It was also aimed to enable national and international scientists, government institutions and stakeholders to knit ideas with a view to fostering holistic  biosafety in Nigeria.

With various sub- themes that discussed specific areas of biosafety in modern biotechnology regulation and how they relate to pertinent economic issues such as health care delivery systems, environmental management and economic sustainability etc, the conference “is designed to promote collaborations among government agencies/organizations and all other stakeholders and interest groups on matters relating to biosafety regulation in Nigeria.”

He further stated that the NBMA Act 2015 seeks to provide derived benefits from safe modern biotechnology under a legal framework for economic growth, improved agriculture, job and wealth creation, industrial growth and sustainable environment, minimise risks to human health, confirm and harness the potentials of modern biotechnology, guard against any socio-economic consequences,‎ give confidence in the practice of modern biotechnology, use and handling of GMOs and GM products, among others.

“Science and technology are some of the drivers of change and Nigeria as a country cannot continue to look backward for obsolete technologies to drive her socioeconomic survival. The opportunities in the adoption of safe technologies are endless and their  borders seamless. How strong regulation  is required for safety,” Ebegba emphasised.

He assured Nigerian citizens of NBMA’s resolve to regulate modern biotechnology for their benefit. “I want to assure you that the NBMA is poised to effectively regulate modern biotechnology for the benefit of Nigerians and to allay the fears of the members of the public who so wish to consume GMOs.

“Nigerians should be rest assured of the protection of their health and the environment by the NBMA on matters concerning GMOs. The Agency’s Enforcement  officers  are currently surveying for illegal  GMOs and the practice of modern biotechnology without permit in Nigeria,” he assured.

He advised the public against relying on non science information in taking decisions about the technology. “Nigerians should therefore trust the Agency’s decisions and avoid unscientific information and acts capable of causing public distrust and panic. In the event of any doubt on matters concerning biosafety, the NBMA is available for the clarification.”

‎It was expected that the outcomes of the conference would assist in strengthening Nigeria’s national  biosafety system.

Ebegba

How Accessible, Affordable Seeds Could Boost African Food Production

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By Abdallah el-Kurebe 

> The large multinational companies’ quality and range of seeds, if available and affordable, could help boost yields.” – TASAIndex

As the value of each seed increases, farmers look to get the most from it and protect that investment. This means planting earlier to hit that optimum window…” – Martin Faerber, Syngenta Seedcare

Generally, seeds play important role in agriculture and food security. It is the primary pride of farmers, followed by fertilisers. This explains why government and other stakeholders should ensure timely seeds accessibility to ‎farmers.


If smallholder farmers’ access to modern seed varieties ‎is improved, we could be sure that food security concerns would be tackled.


The African Seed Access Index (TASAI), which objective is to promote the creation and maintenance of enabling environments for competitive seed systems serving smallholder farmers‎, has established the fact that Western Africa was an exception in the activities of the seed industry. “There is a clear gap” and seed companies have no presence in Gambian Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Niger and Sierra Leone. 


TASAI notes that only 2.5 percent of seeds used by the farmers come from global seeds firms. Ido Verhagen, Executive Director of Access to Seeds Index had told the BBC News that “research shows that smallholder farmers use a mixed bowl of seeds, including seeds they have saved themselves, seeds that they buy from the market and certified seeds from companies.”


He posited that access to certified seeds from companies was limited not only because of availability but also affordability and capability.

Umar Aliyu, an agronomist with the Department of Crop Science, Usmanu Danfodiyo University Sokoto (UDUS) explained that ‎”government should make seeds available and affordable to farmers. Farmers need quality seeds, which genetic purity is aascertained. Seed companies have not met the needs of the farmers.”


Tukur Mu’azu, ‎Managing Director of Yola-based Asma Seeds Limited told me that seeds in Nigeria were insufficient for farmers. 


“The research institutes have not been able to meet the requirements of the seeds companies‎. Some of the foundation seeds are not properly processed by the institutes – their impurity in terms of foreign particles, different sizes, mix colours, especially in maize, germination rates are not as claimed by the institutes.

“Foundation seeds are not released to seeds companies at the appropriate time and ‎there is delay in the release of approvals to seeds companies for the purchase of the foundation seeds,” Mu’azu lamented.

On Certified Seeds, the Asma boss observed that Seeds Officer’s who monitor the entire seeds productions were inadequate‎ And that “unlicensed seeds abound in the market and are cheaper than the certified seeds.”‎

According to him, “educated farmers have high demand for certified seeds while the uneducated farmers prefer to use farm-stored-seeds.”

As a solution, Mu’azu suggested that “the Growth Enhancement Support Scheme (GESS) pro‎gramme introduced by the Federal government should be adopted with amendments in areas of: The National Agricultural Seeds Council (NASC) should be solely responsible for appointing seeds companies for the supply of seeds; the Seeds Officers should be assigned to collect the seeds from the supplying companies on behalf of the beneficiaries and prompt payments be made to the suppliers.‎”

However, the Director General (DG) of the National Agricultural Seed Council in Nigeria, Dr. Philip Ojo thinks that the industry was doing well.

According to him, for the 2016 wet season, 150.64mt of breeder and foundation seeds were received and distributed to seed companies.

“The seeds are expected to produce a total of 10,263,70mt of both foundation and certified seeds. ‎The Council supervised the production of over 69,787.674mt of quality and certified seeds in 2016 wet season and plans an additional 25,635.35mt for the dry season in order to prepare Nigeria for the 2017 early season production,” the DG said.

Ojo further assures that seed companies had stockpiles in their warehouses. “From our current seed stock position of seed companies, there is an additional 18,668.93mt available in warehouses of seed companies.”

It is my opinion that if ten seed companies ‎control 94 percent of global seeds market, then there is need to strengthen smaller companies to bridge the availability gap that now exist.

Also, as the African Seed Trade Association (AFSTA) Congress 2017 comes up in Dakar, Senegal between February 28th and March 2nd 2017‎, it is hoped that challenges of accessibility, affordability, and others would be addressed.

GMOS: NBMA is Equipped to Carry Out Risk Assessments, Says Environment Minister

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​By Abdallah el-Kurebe

The Minister of Environment in Nigeria, Amina Mohammed has assured that the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) was adequately equipped to carry out risk assessments on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), which are currently under trial in the country.

Mohammed, who gave the assurance at the just concluded Second National Conference of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) on Thursday in Abuja, explained that the agency had capable biosafety regulatory personnel as well as equipped to carry out risk assessments on GMOs.

“NBMA has personnel who are trained within and outside the country to effectively carry out its regulatory functions and also well equipped laboratory to detect any smallest genes in GMOs.

“Nigerians should be rest assured of the protection of their health and the environment by the agency on matters concerning GMOs. We are working in partnership with relevant bodies in line with the United Nations convention to protect the environment and these partnerships are important if we are to succeed in ensuring food security,” the Minister stated.

She enjoined all Nigerians to support the government in its effort to rejuvenate the economy and free its people from poverty. “Nigerians should support NBMA to enable us benefit maximally from the practice of safe modern biotechnology.”

Mohammed observed that the theme of the conference was relevant to the Change Agenda of the present administration, which focused on revitalising the economy, improving security and tackling corruption.

“This administration is committed to ensuring food security for all Nigerians, therefore, agriculture is one of the ways the government is making urgent efforts to diversify the Nigerian economy. Lack of food security is an underlining cause for some of the greatest challenges in the country today. So, sustainable development goals should seek to end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition,” she said.

Mohammed said that for Nigeria to be food sufficient, it must underscore the need for modern and climate smart agricultural practices. “We must increase investment, including enhanced international cooperation in rural infrastructure, agricultural research and extension services, technology development and plant and livestock gene banks in order to enhance agricultural productive capacity.

“This will provide a form of economic diversification as it will bring with it a new set of skill requirements and expand job opportunities. And this government will welcome technology that will provide safe and adequate food for Nigerians,’’ she said.

Mohammed