Nairobi — An international agricultural research programme has unveiled plans to collaborate with the African Union to drive agricultural research and boost productivity on the continent.
In a Memorandum of Understanding signed earlier this month (15 January), the Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers (CGIAR Consortium) set out its agreement with the African Union Commission (AUC) to work towards aligning research agendas to help create a food secure future for Africa.
The collaboration will support the efforts of African research institutes at the country, sub-regional and continental level to realise science-based agricultural transformations and advance science and technology agendas, says Piers Bocock, director of knowledge management and communications at the CGIAR Consortium.
"In addition to developing capacity and sharing knowledge, the memorandum will facilitate the sharing of existing scientific and technological breakthroughs," Bocock tells SciDev.Net.
The CGIAR Consortium is a global partnership that brings together 15 of the world's leading agriculture research centres and that also leads 16 comprehensive global agricultural research programmes addressing food security.
The consortium will work to improve its coordination with governmental agricultural strategies and the AUC's Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), which aims to boost African agriculture by addressing policy and capacity issues in the sector.
"By understanding the priorities of African governments, we can ensure that our research is focused on the most pressing agricultural challenges in Africa," Bocock says.
Abebe Haile Gabriel, the AUC's director of rural economy and agriculture, says the memorandum "calls for joint actions to guide the implementation of programmes and support activities for the CAADP," while noting that the agreement does not include any financial exchange.
But collaborations such as this also raise a number of potentially challenging issues, says Maurice Bolo, director of the Scinnovent Centre, a Nairobi-based research and training organisation focused on science and innovation.
Bolo is keen to know, for example, how the partnership plans to tap into existing regional centres of excellence that were created under the New Partnership for Africa's Development's (NEPAD) Consolidated Plan of Action (CPA) on Africa's Science and Technology
"This cooperation may further undermine intra-African networking or cooperation, which is already suffering, and there is little attention given to programmatic synergies with other continental initiatives, such as the CPA," he says.
Bolo adds that there is very little collaboration between scientists in different African countries, and that this does not augur well for attempts aimed at increasing such collaboration.
He also expresses concern that the new memorandum does not focus sufficiently on agricultural innovation, a deficiency that he feels is common across the continent.
"Research and development products have stagnated in laboratories, whether at the CGIAR or African research institutes, and any new collaboration should give attention to moving these products into use or commercialisation," Bolo says.
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.