The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) has committed to injecting AU$3million Australian dollars (est. Rwf 2.1 billion) towards improving research and innovation in transforming food systems in Africa.
The commitment was made this September 5, during a conference organized by the Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) to discuss evidence with stakeholders on “Innovating to transform food systems in Africa.
The meet brought together global researchers, policy makers, private sector, and development and stakeholders to share knowledge based on current evidence and key lessons, on the sidelines of the upcoming 2022 African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) to be held in Kigali, Rwanda from 6 to 9 September 2022.
The funds come following gaps in funding and scaling up innovations in food systems and value chains highlighted at the conference.
Normally the ACIAR doesn’t act as a donor but brokers; designs and commissions research programs between Australia and developing countries in indo- pacific and with keen interest in Africa, especially in Rwanda.
Dr. Eric Huttner, the ACIAR Research Program Manager said that after years of implementing the Cultivate Africa’s Future Fund (CultiAF)- with AU$37million investment (2013 and 2023), there is a need to fill in the gaps on sustainability, scale up some innovations.
For example, in producing protein rich feed (insect-based feed) and nitrogen use in fertilizers but will require investment, research and ingenuity.
To build on this success and need to scale up research, Huttner announced commissioning a new research project that will facilitate a shift to insect-based feed as an alternative for Africa’s need for animal feed.
“This research activity will have a clear objective of scaling up insect-based feed at the small holder and commercial level. There is diversity of approach in the scale up and safety will be clear so as not to do harm,” Huttner said.
He noted that the regulatory aspect of safety will move at different paces in each African country, but ACIAR will support the process and also have research on public perception.
Experts say it is because of unreliable weather, lack of technology and capacity though agriculture remains a key player in Africa’s economies thus a need to make the shift and scale up on workable solutions.
Dr Chrysantus Tanga, a Senior Scientist and the Head of Insects for Food, Feed and Other Uses (INSEFF) Programme said that insect feed is a scalable solution as demand for animal feed and reduce costs of importing costly animal feeds.
For instance, over 1,000 farmers in East Africa trained in farming Black Soldier Flies (BSF) has seen over 200 insect-based enterprises annually producing 3tons of fresh BSF and three of them producing 10,000 tons of dried insect protein annually and 330,000 tons of insect composite, enough to cover 7% of animal feed needs and soil fertilizer needs.
With COVID-19 in Africa, the challenge is even more daunting and according to the World Bank, in 2020, more than one in five people on the African continent face hunger and about 282 million people are undernourished.
Roy Steiner, Vice President Rockefeller Foundation said that the fact that Sub- Saharan Africa spends over $40billion annually in importing foods and this need to be reversed to change critical areas.
“If a portion of this money could be invested in promoting better systems, training, infrastructures, and processing within Africa; that would have a fantastic impact,” Steiner said.
Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) Deputy Director General, Dr. Charles Bucagu showed workable solutions through investment and partnerships in Rwanda including infrastructure for food chains, privatizing the seed sector, farmer crop insurance (Nkunganire) and offering subsidized fertilizer with a plan of scaling to an in-country fertilizers production.
“We are now planning on our own fertilizer plant in Bugesera. This will start operations in 10 or 11 months from now in partnership with Morocco,” Bucagu revealed.
Institute of Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR) Executive Director, Eugenia Kayitesi, said more work needs to be done in research-based solutions and two studies (funded by IDRC) have been commissioned to understand the post COVID impact on small business and citizen social welfare, but more funding will be needed for innovative research.
Recommendations from this event will contribute to shaping discussions during the AGRF 2022 which aims, among other things, to spotlight innovations in food systems and showcase diversity of voices and stakeholders contributing to the transformation of Africa’s food system.