Monday, October 14, 2013

Lifting Africans out of poverty with IITA’s holistic approach

A farmer cultivating improved Soy bean
An insight into a redefined strategy by IITA to address the immense issues of poverty, under nutrition and untenable agricultural practices and use of natural resources in Africa was provided by its Deputy Director for Research and Development, Dr Ylva Hillbur, during her visit to UWA Institute of Agriculture in August.
   Dr Hillbur’s public lecture showcased how strengthening the presence of IITA, the leading institute of agriculture in Africa, across the African continent and building stronger scientific research and development networks at national levels is already creating new opportunities for improved livelihoods in sustainable environments.
   IITA operates from 18 research stations across four regional hubs in West, Central, East and Southern Africa managed from Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, and Zambia, respectively. Here, an international group of more than 120 scientists works on IITA’s‘research-for-development’ programs with an annual budget of 80 million US dollars, of which about 20 percent comes from the CGIAR Consortium. IITA, with its headquarters in Nigeria, is one of CGIAR’s research institutes, and the scientific focus of IITA’s strategy for Africa overlaps with priorities across many of CGIAR’s research programs (CRPs).
   IITA works on a whole-society approach to achieve its goal of lifting 11 million Africans out of poverty and developing 7.5 million hectares of land into sustainable use by 2020. Its success comes from quality research, translation of research, and commercialization of research outputs, but collaboration with national and local partners and serious efforts towards capacity development and gender equality are as important for long-term progress to be made.
   “From an agronomical perspective, we are challenged with low and further decreasing soil fertility, a high incidence of pests and pathogens, and undiversified cropping systems, leaving the systems vulnerable and leading to undiversified diets,” Dr Hillbur explained.
   IITA aims to generate impact by intensifying, diversifying, and improving cropping systems of many essential staple crops and grain legumes. Encouraging outcomes have already been achieved with the development of pro-vitamin A enriched ‘orange maize’, Striga resistant and drought-tolerant maize varieties, the cassava transformation program in Nigeria and the banana transformation project in Uganda, to name a few.
   Further attention to improve systems management, education and youth employment completes the holistic plan to combat the underlying issues of poverty in Africa.
   Dr Hillbur met Hackett Professor Kadambot Siddique, Director of UWA’s Institute of Agriculture and a member of the CGIAR Grain Legumes Independent Advisory Committee, at the launch of the Grain Legumes CRP in India early this year. During her visit Dr Hillbur discussed potential future areas of collaboration between IITA and UWA.

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