Taking stock of Sweden’s research for development investment in Africa: Dr Claes Kjellström from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency visits the BecA-ILRI Hub

The Swedish Government’s strategic approach to sustainable development through research for development is at the heart of the sustained support for agricultural research programs in Africa including the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub.

A recent visit by Dr. Claes Kjellström, Senior Policy Specialist in the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency’s Department for Africa,  to the BecA-ILRI Hub demonstrated Sweden’s support for increased agricultural biotechnology as one of the means of achieving food and nutritional security in sub-Saharan Africa.

Since 2011, the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs has provided financial support to a wide-ranging mix of innovative research for development and capacity building activities led by the BecA-ILRI Hub and implemented in collaboration with African national agricultural research systems (NARS). The Swedish funded research programs focus on two major agricultural development issues in Africa—achieving food security and climate change mitigation. The visit by Kjellström was his first opportunity to familiarize himself with the Swedish funded activities at the BecA-ILRI Hub since he assumed leadership of the BecA-Sweden partnership from Dr Gity Berhavan.

The one-day visit started with a partnership introductory meeting with Dr Appolinaire Djikeng, director of the BecA-ILRI Hub. During this first session, Kjellström was briefed on current status of the BecA-Sweden partnership and its importance in the delivery of BecA’s mission since 2011. Kjellström then met with leading scientists and other key BecA staff who have been leading various components of the partnership.

Swedish investment in African agricultural research

Morris Agaba highlighted the role played by the program on genetic diversity of goats in Ethiopia and Cameroon program in influencing national policy and farmer practices to increase investment and management of goat genetic resources; Sita Ghimire gave an overview of the ‘climate-smart Brachiaria grasses to increase livestock production in East Africa’ research program which is being implemented in Kenya and Rwanda and has raised the profile of these grasses as a preferred forage for livestock especially in drought prone areas; and Francesca Stomeo talked about the suite of genomics and bioinformatics tools developed through the Plant virome project and have been applied in the exploration of the viral community in different agro-ecological zones in Kenya.  

On the capacity building activities that are co-funded by the Swedish Government, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Australian government, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, Wellington Ekaya underscored the impact being achieved through the close to 400 fellowships of up to one year that have been supported; over 600 NARS scientists have attended short courses; and the upgrading of bioscience research capabilities in four regional research institutions. 

Josephine Birungi who has oversight of the development of various technology platforms with the support of Swedish expertise from the Swedish National Veterinary Institute (SVA) and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. The tools and the knowledge gained on these platforms are being transferred to national laboratories.

Touring the state-of-the-art biosciences laboratories

During a tour of the laboratory facilities, Kjellström met with recipients of the ABCF fellowships currently working at the BecA-ILRI Hub including Damaris Mwangi from the University of Nairobi; Asheber Tegegn from Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research; and Francis Mwatuni from the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service. Mwangi and Tegegne’s studies are leveraging on the research conducted by the Swedish funded research on climate smart Brachiaria grasses to improve livestock feed in Africa while Mwatuni is utilizing the genomics tools developed through the Plant virome project to develop a better understanding of MLND.

Emerging opportunities

Kjellström observed that the BecA-ILRI Hub’s approach to research for development is in consistent with the Swedish Government’s strategy of creating synergies between research across different programs as well as with other development investments. In agreement with these sentiments, Djikeng emphasized the emerging opportunities for further support that have arisen from Sweden’s initial support.

‘In addition to being in alignment with Sida’s regional cooperation agenda and with the BecA-ILRI Hub’s mission and business plan, the developing research areas are well positioned to respond to key national, regional and continental priorities,’ said Djikeng.

Comprehensive plans for engagement with selected NARS in eastern and central Africa have been developed to guide joint efforts and investment in research and capacity building that include commitments of resources from national governments in eastern and central Africa. A similar approach is being used with key partnering institutions in West Africa in responding to the increasing demand for support from the region.

Building on the success of the climate smart Brachiaria grasses program and the wide range of partnerships established in 11 countries, the BecA-ILRI Hub is poised to lead a regional forage program to ensure that farmers increase their options for animal nutrition. Key innovations delivered under the Brachiaria program will be pivotal to support the establishment and acceleration of robust research programs on livestock productivity for other important forage species in the region.

Outputs and outcomes from the robust livestock productivity program which has strong engagement of national research institutes and universities have already begun to guide key investments in Cameroon and other countries. There are also emerging opportunities for crop improvement including plant pathogen interactions, emerging plant disease, new cultivar development through breeding for high yield disease resistance and nutritional quality that would greatly enhance BecA’s capacity and leverage current strategic partnerships with African partners and other collaborators in advanced research institutions across the world.

Promising returns on investment

Kjellström termed his visit as an excellent update of what had been done with Sweden’s investment since 2009, saying he concurred with his predecessor’s assessment of the BecA-ILRI Hub’s achievements. ‘In her hand-over report to me Gity has described the BecA-ILRI Hub’s performance as being excellent,’ he said. ‘You have achieved all objectives with very few risks’, he added.

 

 

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