Experts chart strategic roadmap to boost productivity of smallholder mixed-farming growers in East and Southern Africa

Tanzanian Farmers

ARUSHA, TANZANIA – Mixed-farming smallholder growers in East and Southern Africa are slated to see a boost in their production and productivity resulting from a strategy that will see agricultural experts from different disciplines and farmers working hand-in-hand at the farm and village levels. International and national agricultural researchers converged in Arusha, Tanzania from 1 to 5 October to identify priority research areas and develop a strategic roadmap for an ambitious project that seeks to improve the livelihood of farmers in East and Southern Africa through better and more efficient integration of crop and livestock in their farms.

While most smallholder farmers in Africa practice mixed farming –growing different crops and trees and keeping various livestock – traditional research efforts have tended to focus on increasing the production and efficiency of individual components.

Under the Africa Research in Sustainable Intensification for the Next Generation – aptly dubbed Africa RISING – funded by USAID as part of the US Government’s Feed the Future global food security initiative, researchers from different disciplines will now work together to see how farmers can best integrate the different agricultural components in their farms to maximize productivity while conserving or enhancing soil fertility and improving the nutrition of their families and their livestock.

The program, which was launched early this year, is being implemented in maize- and rice-based mixed farming systems in East and Southern Africa and in the Guinea Savannah of West Africa, and in the Ethiopian Highlands. In the East, Southern, and West Africa, Africa RISING is being coordinated by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), while in Ethiopia the program is being led by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). The target countries in East and Southern Africa are Tanzania, Malawi, and Zambia.

Africa RISING kicked off in East and Southern Africa with 11 “jumpstart” projects to explore different options for sustainable agriculture intensification and look at current farming practices to identify best practices and challenges.  Some of the issues tackled included farmers’ access to and use of inputs such as fertilizers and improved seeds, gaps in the current seeds systems, food safety and nutrition, post-harvest handling and processing, and markets.

Dr Irmgard Hoeschle-Zeledon, Coordinator of the IITA-led component of Africa RISING, said the issues identified by the jumpstart projects were used as basis to develop a thorough research agenda and establish strategic partnerships.

“We identified existing and successful technologies that we need to build upon, gaps and policy issues to address, as well as institutions and partners who we could work with to achieve the objectives of Africa RISING,” she said. “Partnerships are crucial for the success of this project.”

Jerry Glover, USAID Activity Manager for the program, added that Africa RISING is a complex project. “We want to increase the productivity of smallholder farms while avoiding undesirable impacts on the environment usually associated with it. We are also trying to address some of the key challenges that farmers face because of climate change. We want to use science to bring about a new green revolution but without the environmental blowback that is often overlooked,” he said.

According to Prof Mateete Bekunda, the project’s Chief Scientist for East and Southern Africa based at IITA’s office in Arusha, the project brings together a rich mix of development and research partners – from key government entities to national and international agricultural research institutions, universities, and the private sector.

“Our partners are bringing their various ‘tried and tested’ approaches that will be put together to provide smallholder farmers with many options to improve their livelihoods. This will be achieved by increasing their income by diversifying their income streams, reducing their vulnerability to adverse environmental and economic challenges, and improving their nutrition and welfare especially of young children and mothers.”

“It’s not an easy task, but we are all highly motivated and ready to make Africa RISING work,” he concluded.

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