Gabrielle Persely at a March 2011 farewell seminar she gave at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), titled ‘Africa, science and agriculture: A 25-year perspective’ (photo credit: ILRI/Mungai).
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard today announced a new initiative to share Australia’s world leading expertise in food production with the people of Africa. The Government will set up a new Australian International Centre for Food Security to provide valuable agricultural research and advice to African countries in need.
Africa holds 60 per cent of the world’s uncultivated farmable land however one in three people still go hungry there every day. Under-investment in agricultural research and innovation, along with a decline in agricultural productivity, are key factors affecting Africa’s ability to bring about food security.
Australia has much agricultural and scientific expertise pertinent to African agriculture and food security. This expertise includes dry-land and tropical farming, climate change adaptation, commercialisation of agricultural research and water and soil management.
The new centre will give farmers, government agencies and the private sector access to this expertise and other support from a large network of Australian, African and international research bodies. The Australian Government will provide more than AUD36 million to establish the centre, which will be led by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). The new centre will be set up in Canberra and an office will be established in Africa to provide further support.
As an important first step, the centre will host an international conference—’Food Security in Africa: Bridging Research and Practice’—next year. The conference will bring together a range of Australian and African research partners, as well as international experts, to identify opportunities for cooperation.
This package of assistance builds on Australia’s existing AUD100-million initiative that is working with African and Australian partners, including ACIAR and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), to improve crop yields, livestock health and rural livelihoods in Africa.
Gabrielle Persley, leader of a new Crawford Fund research project on ‘A wider canvas of emerging issues in international agricultural research,’ and chair of the Doyle Foundation, a Scottish-based charity that advocates the role of science and technology in development, particularly in relation to livestock in Africa, welcomed the announcement.
Having spent much of the past decade working with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Africa, I have seen the benefits of Australia’s financial and scientific contribution first-hand, including building new partnerships with young African scientists, such as those hosted by Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA), a new shared research facility hosted by ILRI in Nairobi,’ Persley said.
Persley is an Australian bioscientist expert who has lived and worked in many parts of Africa and the world, including Kenya, where she served for several years as senior advisor to ILRI’s former director general Carlos Seré and helped ILRI and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development to plan and build BecA.
Persley noted the following examples of important work being conducted by African scientists and their international partners.
- New cassava varieties resistant to brown streak disease being developed by Tanzania and Uganda, where cassava (tapioca) is a major staple crop, especially important in times of drought.
- Sweet potato, also a famine relief crop in East Africa, and new yellow-fleshed varieties being developed offer enhanced Vitamin A content, important in the diets of women and children.
- Improved management of African swine fever, a devastating disease of village pigs in Africa, which are an important source of animal protein and of cash income for rural communities.
‘These are only a few examples of how first-class science and scientists in Africa are making life better for many people living in harsh environments in the countries of Africa,’ Persley said. ‘The new Australian International Centre for Food Security will be a welcome addition to both accelerate and expand these efforts.’
Read the news release from the office of the Australian Prime Minister: Australia strengthens food security in Africa, 28 Oct 2011.
Read the news release from the Crawford Fund: Focusing Australia’s agricultural strengths for Africa’s benefits, 31 Oct 2011.