10 January 2014

Africa: Expanded Research Puts Global Food Security On the Horizon

Scientists and food experts have high hopes in achieving global food security as the world's largest agriculture research partnership recently announced a funding milestone.

CGIAR a global research agricultural partnership that works with partners around the world to reduce poverty in rural areas, says funding for research and development went from 500 million dollars in 2008 to one billion dollars in 2013. This allowed the consortium of partners to expand their focus on their 16 global research programs in developing policies and technologies to overcome complex challenges in areas such as climate change, water scarcity, land degradation and chronic malnutrition.

The increased funding has also allowed the partnership to commit to providing 12 million African households with sustainable irrigation; saving 1.7 million hectares of forest from destruction; and providing 50 million poor people with access to highly nutritious food crops. Two major crops that have already been improved upon due to expanded research are maize and rice.

"Results of those changes for example, have allowed for a large expansion in the work on drought tolerant maize, particularly in Africa, and in Asia on flood tolerant rice, where the fruits of research have gotten into the hands of farmers in a very, very rapid way," says who Jonathan Wadsworth, executive secretary of the CGIAR Fund Council.

He further explains in rice, for example, four years after the release of new types of rice that withstand temporary flooding in Asia, over four million farm families are reaping the benefits.

"In Africa, on drought tolerant maize, hundreds of thousands of farmers are now using varieties which given them a harvest even in times of drought," emphasized Wadsworth.

He says a lot of work is going on in sub-Saharan Africa and in the Sahel region, where drought and climate conditions are much more severe, agroforestry is being incorporated into the production of maize production.

In looking ahead into the year 2014, Wadsworth sees challenges all of the way around the agriculture production cycle. However, scientists are already meeting these challenges head on.

"I think one thing which we have shown in the CGIAR is that food security is not only a question of the amount of food, it's also to do with the quality of the food which is produced and available both to rural households, and to urban population, he explains.

In addition he points out that one of the areas that CGIAR has been developing over the last few years and will expand on this year is increasing the nutritional value of staple crops to ensure higher levels of protein, micro-nutrients, and vitamins that are essential to the health of the population, particularly for pregnant and lactating women, and children.

For example, he highlighted new research done in Latin America that has yielded new types of sweet potato. Now more nutrient enriched, this crop has been introduced in Africa, and the high levels of vitamin A in the sweet potato will improve the vitamin A deficient diets in many African countries.

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