Researchers and academics attending the Fifth JKUAT Annual Scientific, Technology and Industrialization Conference have called for increased linkages between research institutions and farmers in an effort to address rising food insecurity in Africa.
The three-day forum, which focused on food security on the second day, comes at a time when Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region of the world where poverty and malnutrition continue to increase amidst stagnation in agricultural productivity while growth is reported in other developing regions like China.
Fragmented research systems, weak linkages among research institutions, universities and poor extension services have conspired to condemn millions of people in the continent to perennial hunger, said Jane Ambuko in a paper she presented.
Prof. Esther Kahangi (left), Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Research, Production and Extension Division, talks with farmers in Mwea recently on the new System of Rice Intensification (SRI). Researchers attending Fifth JKUAT Annual Scientific, Technology and Industrialization Conference have called on regional governments to scale up extension services to improve agricultural productivity.
“At China Agricultural University, professors work with farmers in technology transfer endeavors while graduates are sent to their villages to work as assistants to the leaders of village committees to help speed up technology transfers,” said Dr Ambuko in explaining why China has succeeded in attaining food security for its population of over 1.3 billion people from 122 million hectares of arable land.
“Some of the relevant technologies/information is available but it just doesn’t get to the farmers,” she said in emphasizing the missing link that is the collapse of extension services.
The don, in a paper titled ‘Success of Chinese Agriculture; what lessons for Kenya’, argued that the continued neglect of agricultural courses that used to produce extension officers will impact negatively on efforts to increase food production.
Kenya’s extension services collapsed in the early 1990s as the government stopped employing extension officers in the wake of Structural Adjustment Programmes championed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund as governments faced pressure of cutting down on expenditure. But this, consequently, ruined the agricultural sector that has not recovered to date.
In his presentation entitled: ‘Potential of plant stress science for green innovation’, Prof. Wataru Sakamoto of Okayama University’s Institute of Plant Science and Resources said crops’ tolerance to such environmental stresses as drought, salinity, acid soils and heat would have potential to generate crops for the future.
He said the key to new breed of high quality seed crops is for scientists pursuing specific selection strategies to enhance yield in low-yield (stressed) environments.
“By virtue of the much larger areas of low-yielding land globally, low-yielding environments offer the greatest opportunity for substantial increases in global food production,” he said.
The conference that has attracted more than 140 paper presenters comes to close on Friday November 19, 2010.
By Sammy Cheboi