The International Crop Research Institute for the Semi Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) last week celebrated its 40-year anniversary in Bulawayo, bringing to the fore a plethora of challenges besetting the country as it seeks to regain its bread basket status.
Guest of honour, Angeline Masuku, who is the provincial governor for Matabeleland South, praised ICRISAT for its contribution to the development of agriculture and human resources in Zimbabwe.
"Several students have been trained up to PhD level via the organisation as well as farmers in the Matebeleland region. We urge the organisation to focus more on improving grazing for livestock and to continue implementing projects such as the one located in Mkwali for market linkages," Masuku said.
The provincial administrator for Matabeleland South, Midard Khumalo, also noted that the work ICRISAT is doing dovetails with the Millennium Development Goal number one of eradicating poverty.
In Zimbabwe, ICRISAT has been in existence for 28 years since its invitation into the country by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Heads of State and government in 1984.
It is currently headed by Andre van Rooyen, who is the country representative.
Its location in Bulawayo was not coincidental, coming as it did at a time when Zimbabwe was the bread basket of southern Africa.
SADC saw it fit to have Zimbabwe host ICRISAT at the Matopos Research Station in line with its then esteemed portfolio of food security within the SADC region. ICRISAT is part of the global CGIAR (formerly the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) network of organisations whose ambit straddles agricultural research for sustainable development, reducing rural poverty, improving food security, improving nutrition and health, and sustainably managing natural resources via donor funding.
ICRISAT collaborates with multilateral organisations, including national and regional agricultural research institutes, civil society organisations, academia and the private sector.
The relevance of institutions such as ICRISAT cannot be overstated given the vexatious climatic change the world is currently experiencing.
Scientists at ICRISAT and the world over are battling to keep pace with these devastating changes in the climate that affect agricultural production and push millions of people to the brink of hunger and starvation due to crop failure and inadequate yields. This all set against the rampaging population growth rate.
There is simply not enough land to grow enough food to sustain so many of the earth's dwellers without the vital intervention of research institutes whose aim is to produce the necessary research to help mitigate and catalyze agricultural development.
Commercialisation of the work of ICRISAT is an opportunity that is yet to be fully explored.
"People need to know more about this organisation and what it has to offer," said a lady on tour of the facilities.
Guests were shown the laboratory which now proudly possesses soil testing equipment called the Atomic Absorption Spectrofotometer which is one of three now in the country.
The other two are in Harare.
In the past it has proved too daunting a task for farmers to travel to the capital to submit soil samples for analysis. The equipment has wide application for those engaged in farming activities.
"It helps facilitate precision to farming activities within the region. For a mere US$33 a soil test analysis is now being done at the ICRISAT lab in Matopos.
Sentiments gathered from guests at the anniversary of ICRISAT suggest that the organisation is not as visible as it ought to be in the public eye and that more could be done to make its presence felt not only in Zimbabwe but within the region given its strategic role in agricultural development.
Moreover, the absence of higher profile officials from either SADC or the Zimbabwe government's foreign affairs or Ministry of Agriculture was too glaring for an organisation of its international stature and mission.