Brussels — African and European officials have agreed to work together on food, nutrition and agricultural research, with the first round of calls for research grants in this area expected next week.
Senior representatives from the European Commission, the African Union Commission and science ministries from both continents agreed at the second meeting of the European Union-Africa High Level Policy Dialogue (HLPD) on Science, Technology and Innovation, held in Belgium last week (28-29 November), to set up a research partnership to tackle key issues in this area.
"We recognise that there is a need for the EU-Africa HLPD to focus on a reduced number of common challenges for the cooperation to be effective," the senior officials wrote in the meeting's conclusions.
"Enhancing food and nutrition security as well as sustainable agriculture is a challenge common to the EU and Africa, albeit with different dimensions," Robert-Jan Smits, the European Commission's director-general for research and innovation, said in a statement.
Increasing cooperation in this area could not only improve access to food products, but also boost evidence-based solutions and policymaking, he added.
There is no dedicated budget to support the agreement. Instead, both sides will draw on existing funding tools, says an annex document to the meeting conclusions, titled 'The Way Forward'. This will include the European Commission's European Development Fund and new Horizon 2020 research programme; funds from the African Union Commission; national research budgets; and loans from international banks.
Following the Brussels meeting, the European Commission announced that the first call for research proposals for Horizon 2020, which is due to be made on 11 December, will encourage collaboration between the European Union and Africa on food and agriculture research.
Focus areas for these grants are set to include: sustainably enhancing the agricultural and food chain in Africa; the role of small and family farms in food and nutrition security; and water management for sustainable agriculture and food security, the Commission said.
Europe and Africa also intend to set up a "framework of enhanced coordination" by the end of 2017 to align their efforts in food and agriculture research, according to the plan laid out in 'The Way Forward' document. This could be based on the ERAfrica model, where 16 countries from both continents fund joint research activities.
In the longer term, both sides aim to develop a broader "research and innovation partnership". This could be inspired by the European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership, which was created to speed up the development of drugs against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, with a focus on clinical trials in Sub-Saharan Africa. It brings together governments from Europe and Africa, industry, international organisations and non-profits.
To translate all these intentions into practice, an expert working group is due to be set by March 2014. The group will include ten people from both continents, drawing from universities, civil society, government and industry. It will be asked to deliver a detailed action plan by September.
The agreements made at the HLPD meeting will be presented at the Africa-European Union summit, to be held in Brussels in April 2014, where heads of state and government are expected to endorse this new priority area for research collaboration.