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Africa-EU research projects are contributing to food and nutritional security

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The second meeting of the EU-Africa High-Level Policy Dialogue on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) was held in Brussels on 28 and 29 November 2013. 


Europe-Africa STI initiatives to promote food and nutrition security and sustainable agriculture were the subject, of a side-event co-chaired by Professor John Wood, Secretary General of the Association of Commonwealth  Universities (UK) and Dr. Yemi Akinbamijo, Executive Director of FARA, the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa.


Following an introduction by Dr Elisabeth Lipiatou (DG Research & Innovation at the European Commission) and Dr Abdul-Hakim Elwaer (Director of Human Resources, Science and Technologies at the AU Commission), six joint initiatives were presented and fuelled a debate on the contribution of Africa-EU collaboration on STI to promote food and nutrition security. 



Africa-EU Partnerships for Agricultural Research


PAEPARD (Platform for African European Partnership on Agricultural Research for Development) was presented by François STEPMAN (Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation), the project co-manager. The project is coordinated by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), in cooperation with Agrinatura, the European education and research network. It is supported by the EU through its Food Security Thematic Programme. 


The objective is to consolidate scientific and technical cooperation between Africa and Europe in the field of ARD. 


Phase one (2007 - 2008) made it possible to identify the problems caused by the concentration of partnerships on two categories of institutional stakeholders (universities and national research institutes) as well as by the imbalances and frustrations linked to the fact that most projects were European. 


Phase two (2009-2013) consequently placed the emphasis on more inclusive partnerships extended to farmers organisations, civil society groups, extension agents and the private sector, education institutes and policy networks, as well as on strengthening local African capacities.  PAEPARD II is therefore facilitating more balanced partnerships that are more focused on user demand. It has to date supported 19 multi-stakeholder partnerships/consortia. The programme has been extended until 2017 and serves as a model. 


Calling for increased participation by the private sector, François Stepman cited the AFTER (African Traditional Food) project, supported by the EU, as just one example of successful cooperation between researchers and SMEs to capitalise on the results of ARD.


When research revisits traditional African products


Coordinated by CIRAD (Centre de coopération internationale en recherche agronomique pour le développement - France), AFTER mobilises interdisciplinary teams from seven African countries and four European countries. Its ambition is to improve the quality of traditional African food with the aim of satisfying the demands of urban consumers in Africa and even in Europe. 


One of the products studied is the juice from the red hibiscus (bissap), a traditional drink in Africa that is thirst quenching and rich in anti-oxidants. It is obtained from the dried calyces of the flower. Until recently it was made using traditional techniques by groups of women. The African diaspora in Europe and the United States are very fond of the drink and came to purchase the dried flowers in large quantities. The Institut Technologique Alimentaire (ITA) in Dakar, in cooperation with a Belgian institute, succeeded in reducing the hibiscus flowers to powder form that can then be exported in 25-gram sachets. A private company, Valdafrique, expressed an interest in this innovation and, after purchasing an industrial atomizer, was able to produce the powder on a large scale. Exports to Europe and the United States are currently experiencing strong growth. All in all, this offers an excellent example of a win-win multi-stakeholder partnership. 


The concept of Integrated Agricultural Research for Development (IAR4D) and the “Sub-Saharan Africa Challenge Programme” (SSACP)


The project was presented by Adewale ADEKUNLE (FARA - Ghana).


Through IAR4D, FARA is seeking to encourage systems of agricultural innovation by encouraging farmers, entrepreneurs, extension agents, agricultural input distributors, researchers, policy-makers, transporters, and financial and credit establishments to work together to improve the agricultural sector. 


To date, 36 interactive innovation platforms (IPs) have been implemented in eight countries: DRC, Malawi, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Other countries have expressed an interest.


In Uganda, the IAR4D approach has encouraged the production, from sorghum - a traditional but not very profitable crop - of a new drink (Mamera) that is non-alcoholic and with health benefits. The process was improved by researchers at Makerere University and attracted the interest of a private entrepreneur. Today the drink is sold in Uganda’s shops and supermarkets and around 5,000 sorghum producers have seen their revenue grow by an average of 80%. 


Many similar examples (Irish potatoes in Rwanda, Kasiksi and Mutobe drinks in the DRC, etc.) testify to the benefits of IAR4D compared to more conventional approaches in terms of increased returns, revenue and jobs.



Bio-pesticides for food security


The ADAPPT (African Dryland Alliance for Pesticidal-Plant Technologies - 2009-2013) project was presented by Philip STEVENSON (Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich, UK). Financed by the ACP-EU Cooperation Programme in Science and Technology, this project seeks to increase the use of bio-pesticides as useful tools in contributing to food safety and promoting a sustainable agriculture. 


With this aim, it set up a high level specialised scientific network to study the potential of bio-pesticides as a safe and effective alternative to synthetic pesticides. In 2010 the network included 10 institutions in eight countries. Today it extends to 30 countries. The first International Conference on Bio-Pesticides, organised by ADAPPT in Kenya in January 2013, was a success.


The project has provided training for more than 200 African students and scientists and achieved significant progress in research on plant pesticides. About 500 farmers have received training on how to use bio-pesticides effectively. The project has also published numerous articles in specialist journals, documentation material and databases on plants complete with instructions on how to use them as pesticides. 


However, these new technologies still need to be more widely known and marketed. Close cooperation between researchers and private companies is necessary to translate these research results into products and services, stresses Philip Stevenson. This will be the task of a new project under the ACP-EU Cooperation Programme in S&T. 




 Promoting cooperation between Sub-Saharan Africa and the EU for research and innovation in the face of global challenges 



CAAST-Net Plus (2013 - 2016) has taken over from CAAST-Net (2008-2012) and is supported by the EU 7th Research Framework Programme. It is a project within INCO-NET, the international cooperation instrument that aims to structure and strengthen the EU’s scientific and technological cooperation with other regions of the world. It was presented by Judith Ann FRANCIS (Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation–The Netherlands).


CAAST-Net Plus is a consortium of 25 partners representing 11 African countries (Egypt, Ghana, South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Cape Verde, Senegal, Nigeria, Madagascar, Malawi) and 10 European countries (United Kingdom, France, Germany, Finland, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Greece, Austria) and one associated country (Norway). The coordinator is the Association of Commonwealth Universities (UK). 


Judith Ann Francis studied the impact of joint research and innovation projects on food and nutrition safety. One of the principal problems remains the difficult access to the new technologies and opportunities developed by researchers. Of the African participants in these projects, 36% are in South Africa, 10% in Kenya and 8% in Ghana. The countries that present the greatest food risks, such as the DRC and Niger, are under-represented. 


CAAST-Net Plus will endeavour to strengthen bi-regional cooperation and envisages: 

  • drawing up a road map with the stakeholders
  • setting up an Africa-EU think-tank on food sciences and nutrition that will be responsible for guiding and influencing policy  
  • organising a stakeholder Forum
  • creating bi-regional platforms bringing together food science and nutrition researchers and other stakeholders (farmers, consumers, industries and SMEs, etc.) to translate the results into products. 

A multimedia platform is to be set up to encourage communication and interaction. 



For sustainable development and the intensification of agricultural systems 


IntensAfrica, a new and ambitious European partnership initiative in the field of research and innovation with Africa, was presented by Philippe PETITHUGUENIN of CIRAD. Its aim is the sustainable intensification of agri-food production systems.  Led by CIRAD and the University of Wageningen, the initiative brings together scientific partners from 13 European countries and involves African agricultural research through FARA. 


The idea for the project took root in the questions the two continents are asking about the future of their agriculture in the framework of the CAP in Europe and, in Africa, of the adoption of a political programme for agricultural development under the aegis of the AU (CAADP).


IntensAfrica supports the Agenda for Science and Agriculture in Africa (ASAA) and should be able to assist with its implementation. 


One of the major concerns of the African agenda is the diversity of agricultural production systems throughout the continent. “We must take this diversity into account when considering the different ways in which agriculture can develop,” stresses Philippe Petithuguenin. Indeed, the IntensAfrica philosophy is that there is no one model that is better than another. It is not therefore a question of deciding between different systems but of ultimately being able to make enlightened choices among a multitude of alternative models depending on each context. 


IntensAfrica is a project designed to be implemented over a sustained period. After a preparatory period (2014-2016) it could be launched in 2017. 



The validation and dissemination of environment-friendly strategies to combat thrips in Africa


The project was presented by Sevgan SUBRAMANIAN (International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology, ICIPE, Nairobi). It is financed by the African Union Research Grants Programme.


The aim is to identify strategies and technologies that are both cost effective and environment-friendly to combat the damage caused by thrips to pulses (cowpea and other local species).  There is a need for solutions that are less dependent on synthetic pesticides. Through a public/private partnership involving the bio-pesticide producer Real IPM Kenya Ltd, ICIPE has successfully marketed an entomopathogenic fungus that is currently being sold under the brand labels “Campaign” and “Real Metarhizium” in five African countries.


A Euro-African consortium of international centres of excellence, including ICIPE (Kenya), Plant Research International (The Netherlands), Plant and Food Research (New Zealand) and CIRAD (France), of private companies such as Real IPM (Kenya), and of regional partners such as Makerere University (Uganda) and the Kenyan Institute of Agricultural Research, is involved in the project. The consortium is working on innovative strategies for an integrated biological campaign against thrips to improve the food health and living conditions of small-scale pulse farmers in East Africa. 


The project is also helping to strengthen African research capacities on thrips through studies at master’s, doctorate and post-doctorate level. 


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Conclusions of the meeting