East Africa to take part in 10-year research on boosting food security

Monday May 24 2010

A well tended maize farm. East Africa will be part of a global research  programme on food and conservation. File Photo

A well tended maize farm. East Africa will be part of a global research programme on food and conservation. File Photo 

By By Cosmas Butunyi

East Africa has been earmarked for a global research programme that seeks to strike a balance between food production and environment conservation.

Faced with the new threat of climate change, the Consultative Group on International and Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and the Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP) will spearhead the 10-year challenge programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) starting this year.

The programme will bring together different scientists and research institutions from all over the world to tackle the three issues that are of global concern.

According to the chairman of the CCAFS steering committee, Thomas Roswall, the overall goal of the research programme is to overcome threats posed by climate change in order to achieve food security, enhance livelihoods and improve environmental management.

Besides East Africa, the other regions in which the programme will be implemented are West Africa and the Indo-Gangetic Plains. The choice of the regions is based on their vulnerability to effects of climate change.

Forecasts by the Food and Agriculture Organisation indicate that the agricultural production has to be doubled by 2050 to meet the demand for food.

Recently, scientists from across the world gathered in Nairobi to discuss the matter under the theme: “Building food security in the face of climate change.”

Prof Roswall told the forum that besides closing critical gaps in knowledge on enhancing food security, the programme will also evaluate options for adapting to climate change.

This will later go towards agricultural development, formulation of food security policies and preparation of donor investment strategies.

Models and scenarios will be developed on the available options. Farmers, policy makers, researchers and donors will then select the best option for dealing with changes in climate, track the actions they take, assess their effectiveness and adjust accordingly. The CCAFS hopes to build on this knowledge.

Interactions, synergies and trade-offs between climate change and food security will also be scrutinised. This will make agriculture and food security more resilient to climate change.

The director of CCAFS, Bruce Campbell, said that the programme also intends to mainstream climate change issues into regional and international agricultural development strategies and agenda.

“We want to ensure that agriculture is included in climate change debates at all levels,” he added.

Dr Campbell said that the challenge programme could be upgraded into a “mega programme” next year by the CGIAR, a network of donors that funds major agricultural research institutions across the world.

The upgrade will make climate change and agriculture its first ever mega-programme, effectively designating as a ‘thematic area’ and resources would be directed to it as a matter of priority.

It has been a long journey towards the CCAFS that kicked off in May 2003 by scientists from CGIAR centres.
This initiative soon hit a dead end and was revived only four years ago.

So far, individual countries that will benefit from the research programme have not been named and officials say that they are still in the process of developing criteria for identifying the countries.

Dr Campbell said that the challenge programme area will be expanded in 2011 to include two more regions and a further three regions will be added the following year.