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Boost for agriculture in eastern Africa

The foundation stone was laid by Prime Minister; Honourable Mizengo Pinda recently, is expected to be completed by end of October this year and will facilitate the institute’s research for development activities in 17 countries found in eastern and central Africa.

Speaking at the foundation-stone-laying ceremony, Honourable Pinda noted that the building would help in generating much-needed scientific research to provide solutions to problems of food security; therefore improving the lives of millions of smallholder farmers in the country and the region. “Research plays an important role in increasing productivity by developing cost effective socially acceptable knowledge and technologies that are suitable under prevailing environments,” he said.

“Therefore, the importance of agriculture research should be emphasized.” He noted that in Tanzania, agriculture is the backbone of its economy and played an important role in economic development and improving the livelihood of its people. He said statistics showed that in 2009, the agriculture sector contributed 24.6 per cent towards the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and during the 2009/2010 farming season, the sector produced 12.32 million tonnes of food against an estimated demand of about 11.15 million tonnes, leading to food self-sufficiency of about 110.6 per cent.

However, he said overall productivity is still very low and the country had not achieved its goals on food security and poverty alleviation by ensuring adequate and surplus food production, for local consumption and for export. Furthermore, he noted there are still more challenges ahead in the pursuit for better food self sufficiency and poverty alleviation posed by the increasing population coupled with global warming.

There is a need for more investment of resources - money, human resource and infrastructure development and greater collaboration in agricultural research among local, regional and international institutions. The scenario plays itself out in all the countries in the region where many of the countries barely meet their food needs even as they strive to develop their economies and reduce poverty.

The truth is, there can never be any meaningful development without growing the agricultural sector on which, a large fraction of the population depends on for food and income. The agriculture sector must grow, not only so that it helps feed populations but also make money for the millions engaged in agriculture. The Premier said that agricultural research has a very important role to play to generate and share knowledge on how to sustainably increase productivity.

For starters, farmers need to be provided with improved high yielding varieties of crops that are resistant to major pests and diseases. Farmers need to be introduced to good agronomical practices so as to get maximum yields and learn sustainable and cost effective ways of controlling pests and diseases. Even if productivity increases how will farmers protect their increased yield to ensure an increased income? In Africa, post harvest loss is one of the causes of food insecurity and poverty among small-holder farmers.

Research will help generate knowledge on processing and effective post harvest handling. Another reason why agricultural productivity should increase is the unique opportunity posed by the rapidly increasing world population. In October last year, the world welcomed its 7th billion baby and the world population is expected to double by 2050. To feed all these people the world’s agricultural productivity needs to also double accordingly. And where can the greatest potential to do this be found?

Africa of course, endowed with abundant land, natural and human resources. Already we are seeing the scramble for huge tracts of land for agriculture by developed countries as they strategise on how they will feed their future population. We Africans should therefore grab this opportunity and make agriculture an economically viable activity. We should invest in it and make use of knowledge generated from research to move the millions of small-holder farmers from subsistence farming- growing only enough food for their own consumption to commercial farming - making money out of farming.

Of course research alone will not solve all the problems without the necessary infrastructural and policy support. However, research is extremely important especially as it is neglected in the agenda of many African countries. Probably because it is captial intensive and results are not immediately seen. The IITA science building is dedicated to the fight against hunger and poverty. The challenge is for African countries leaders to wake up and smell the coffee, agriculture cannot afford to be neglected neither can agricultural research, not now and not in the future.


KOMBO Kombo is remembering his wife who died ...

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Author: CATHERINE NJUGUNA

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