19 November 2012

East Africa: Region in Bill Gates $7.8m Research Grant

Photo: Kate Holt/IRIN
In Karamoja, people are resorting to reducing their food rations to cope.

Michigan State University researchers will use a $7.8 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help eight African nations improve their sustainable farming methods.

The grant, from the Gates Foundation Global Development Program, will be used to help guide policymaking efforts to intensify farming methods that meet agricultural needs while improving environmental quality in Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Zambia, Ethiopia and Tanzania.

Programs like this are paramount to Africa, as demonstrated by more than $2.5 billion in annual spending by African governments on agricultural intensification, said Thomas Jayne, project co-director and MSU agricultural, food and resource economics faculty member.

"All of the partners have made a long-term commitment to help this region's programs reach their full potential," he said. "MSU has longstanding expertise in this field, and our commitment to institution building was a major reason as to why the Gates Foundation put its trust in MSU for this grant."

During the next four years, the team will work with 10 African universities, institutes and government ministries to promote effective government strategies that help African farmers become more productive and food secure.

The team also will build the capacity of national policy institutes to guide and support their own countries' agriculture ministries and eventually accept and manage international grants.

Along with the international partnerships, Jayne will collaborate with fellow MSU researchers from the agricultural, food and resource economics department, including Melinda Heisey, Lenis Liverpool-Tasie, Niama Dembele, Isaac Minde, David Mather and Duncan Boughton.

Together, the team will focus on three key crops - maize, sorghum and rice - and seek to improve seed development, fertilization and crop rotation to increase yields in a sustainable manner.

The grant builds upon MSU's longstanding commitment to this region and stands as a tribute to the legacy of the MSU researchers who pioneered efforts such as these, Jayne added.

In 2008, MSU used a $4 million Gates Foundation grant to analyze the region's agricultural marketing and trade systems to provide guidance to governments in the region on strategies to raise agricultural productivity and create more efficient, sustainable markets for small farmers.

"By guiding investments and developing policies, we're hoping to create benefits that go beyond the direct recipients," Jayne said.

"The ripple effect could provide insights that feed more broadly into improving the policy processes in other countries in the region."

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