By Kwesi Atta-Krah
The year 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of IITA. Established in 1967, IITA has carved for itself a distinct niche in the field of research for food and nutritional security in Africa and beyond. This 50th anniversary creates an opportunity to reflect on the past and showcase the success and contributions of IITA’s research-for-development work in the continent. It is also an occasion to celebrate the strong collaboration and cooperation with a host of partners, stakeholders, donors, and farmers.
That however is not where the celebration ends. We aim to celebrate both our past as well as our future. The anniversary celebration is also seen as an occasion to share our thoughts about the future, and our thinking in relation to shaping the food and nutrition security agenda for the coming 50 years. It is for this reason, that as part of this Golden Jubilee celebration, IITA will be organizing a special Conference on 24 November 2017, focusing on the future food and nutrition security challenges for the coming half century. This is a topic of global foresight significance, especially in the light of unfolding climate change. The conference will seek to address biological, environmental, sociological and institutional dimensions, as influenced by population growth and climate change.
Today, as we celebrate the 50th Anniversary with our Media friends, ladies and gentlemen, I wish to share with you some thoughts relating to where we are heading as an institution into the next 50 years. I will address four key areas of work that would be significant for our operation into the next cycle.
1) A New Paradigm
We seek as we move into the future to strengthen our Centre of Excellence status in agricultural research, and to be the preferred and valued partner of African countries towards addressing the critical issues of agriculture in the context of national economic development. The era of research supporting farming simply as a way of life for subsistence of poor smallholder farmers must be brought to an end. As we move into the future we aim to work towards making agriculture a key engine for growth in national economies. In this regard, we would continue to advance and research the case of agriculture as a business at multiple levels, with special focus on the smallholder farmer.
Another dimension in this new paradigm will be to strengthen the foresight and futures dimension of agriculture research to address the challenges of Climate Change. Impacts from extreme climatic events such as floods and droughts are evident and easy to observe. However, indirect impacts, e.g. through increased pressure from biotic stresses are less visible and often pass unnoticed. Changes in temperature and humidity are the two most important climatic factors expected to affect development, reproduction and survival of agricultural pests and diseases. Under the current climate change scenario, this will lead to range expansion of native pests/diseases into new areas, as well as increased damage potential from invasive alien species. IITA intends to emphasize this area of research moving forward. The plan is to establish a regional hub in West and Central Africa, and establish a joint platform, bringing together researchers and practitioners working on biorisks coupled with climate change.
A second key element in our research moving forward is the element of Transformation as a key goal for research. Our research must be done in such a way that it leads to real changes in the economies of nations and in the lives of people. This transformation agenda will require that we operate with our eyes set on development goals and outcomes aimed at bringing about significant change in situations. This will require strengthened partnerships across the domains of research and linking research into delivery chains towards development. It is in this regard that IITA operates two key Directorates, Research for Development (R4D) and Partnerships for Delivery (P4D).
The R4D directorate covers various research projects in 4 key thematic areas (i) Biotechnology and Genetic Improvement, (ii) Natural Resources Management, (iii) Social Science and Agribusiness, and (iv) Plant Protection and Health. While the P4D directorate covers our work in Business Development and Incubation, Youth Entrepreneurship program (Agripreneurs), Mechanization and Capacity Development. The R4D and P4D segments work together seamlessly across four regional Hubs of West and Central Africa, East Africa, Central Africa and Southern Africa.
A major development supporting the transformation paradigm is a new mega ($850 Million) project – Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT), supported by the African Development Bank, in partnership with other donor organizations such as the World Bank, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation and USAID. This is a program that is aimed at building on the products of research and ensuring that they reach the target ends in development and scaling in African countries.
3) Youth in Agriculture
Agriculture over the years has ended up being seen as a business for old people in rural areas, toiling with hoes and cutlasses and getting very little out of their efforts. As a result of this mentality and culture, the youth of today have not taken to agriculture as an employment or business option. This has to change. Youth in any society is the engine of growth and innovation and needs to be adequately mainstreamed and engaged in the core business of national development. Agriculture is no exception to this. Indeed, given the large role played by agriculture in the economic development of countries, it is even more important that youth are attracted back into agriculture as a business.
As we move into the future, we seek to deepen and strengthen the IITA Youth Agripreneur model as an instrument to create a new horizon for African youth into agriculture and agribusiness in the continent. The IITA model of youth incubation and business development in agriculture, has led to the emergence of a new initiative of the African Development Bank “ENABLE Youth” (Empowering Novel Agri-Business-Led Employment for Youth). To date over 31 countries have signed up with AfDB to be part of this program, which will have IITA as strategic and technical partner, and the IITA Youth Agripreneurs as technical experts through a “rolling cadre” approach to support countries in their set-up of the youth agripreneur programs. Our belief for the future is that Transformation will not occur in any country if the Youth are left out of the development process. The time for their involvement in leadership and innovation is now – moving forward!
4) Alignment to Countries
The fourth key goal moving forward is the goal of Alignment. We wish to strengthen the alignment of our research to country goals and strategic targets. IITA and other CGIAR Centers are required to do research that delivers on International Public Goods. This has been a key driver of our research and will continue to be important. However, to address issues of Transformation through agriculture research and development, there needs to be a strengthened country-based strategy and focus. Alignment will require integration of the different elements of research and development within the various countries.
The Goal is to achieve accelerated impact through strengthened integration and alignment of IITA Research and Delivery to country strategic goals and production targets. IITA research moving forward, will be influenced by targets defined and agreed by countries, with links to regional and global frameworks (e.g. CAADP, SDGs). Major IITA projects will be analyzed according to their outputs and contributions to the country goals and targets. This will include projects from R4D, as well as Mega P4D projects such as BIP, TAAT, ENABLE, in relation to achieving country and SDG2 targets in food and nutrition security, wealth creation and employment.
To be successful in the above areas of work, a number of enablers need to be in place. Let me highlight one of them – Communication!! The broader public needs to be better informed and engaged in the work that we do. There needs to be a better rapport with society, with governments, with communities and with stakeholders on the opportunities emerging through research. Feedback from these various levels would also be essential as input in the development of new research and delivery initiatives. We therefore need to establish better ways of engaging with the media as strategic partners in the business of Research and Delivery leading to Transformation. This needs to be seen as essential for both Research institutions and Media organizations.
In closing, let me say, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Media, that as we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of our institute, we are also celebrating what we believe is the way forward. We shall continue to develop these thoughts and ideas by engaging with our partners. We also seek a strengthened engagement with Media for their support in the framework of corporate social engagement (CSE) as we work together towards the transformation of agriculture for the transformation of Africa in the coming decades.
Dr Kwesi Atta-Krah is the Chair of IITA@50 Anniversary celebration and the Director for Systems and Site Integration.