News / Africa

Using Innovation to Boost Farming

Conference on Agricultural Research for Development focuses on innovation. Credit: GCARD II
Conference on Agricultural Research for Development focuses on innovation. Credit: GCARD II
Joe DeCapua
Innovation will be the theme at the upcoming Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development. It gets under way later this month in Uruguay.

The conference, known as GCARD II, will consider the challenges that farmers may face in 20 to 30 years, and try to come up with solutions now.

Professor Monty Jones, winner of the 2004 World Food Prize, will chair the conference. He says it will differ from the first GCARD meeting in Montpellier, France in 2010.

“This time it’s not just scientists talking to themselves; it’s scientists talking to the other players that matter very much, particularly this farmers, the farmer’s group, the NGO group, all these other players. Their voices are now being heard in agricultural research for development,” he said.

Jones is head of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa. He said GCARD has published a road map to “transform agricultural research” so it can have a major impact on development. It’s called “foresight thinking.”

“The tendency for most of us is to look at problems that occur today, and then try to solve those problems. This particular program on foresight thinking is trying to make [a] projection into the future, particularly in a world of climate change and associated problems, like drought and floods, and aggravated problems of disease and insect pests,” he said.

The GCARD Roadmap recommends a “collective focus on priorities” that has been determined by society and science; an effective partnership between researchers and farmers; increased investment; and greater awareness of innovation’s effect on development.

Jones is an innovator himself. He was awarded the World Food Prize for discovery of a genetic process that led to a protein-rich, high yield rice. It’s called NERICA, which stands for New Rice for Africa.

“Innovation is all about creating change. And I think that the process of creating change is very apparent in various regions of the world, including Africa. Yes, my NERICA rice is doing wonders in a number of countries. You probably have heard that rice production in Africa went up by 18 percent in the last few years. And 18 percent in the last few years is a tremendous achievement, and it was probably due to the NERICA rice,” he said.

Jones said other innovations include methods to save the cassava plant, elimination of the animal disease rinderpest and the Green Revolution in Asia. Jones believes such a green revolution eventually will come to Africa.

The Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development says past success in research and technology “has enabled a growing population to avoid mass starvation.” However, it adds that nearly one billion people go hungry every day, and nearly one and a half billion live in extreme poverty. GCARD describes its roadmap as “a plan for urgent collective action.”

Professor Jones said that despite the African continent having large deserts, he believes it will become food self-sufficient and a breadbasket for the world.

“That is my dream. And it probably might begin to happen in my lifetime. I hope it does happen in my lifetime because if you look at it, Africa has got the potential. Sixty percent of the world’s arable land, uncultivated arable land, actually exists in Africa. This is why you hear about land grabbing and things like that,” he said.

GCARD II will be held in Punta del Este, Uruguay from October 29th through November 1st.

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