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Agricultural research is vital for sustainable food systems

There is a paradigm shift in the agricultural ecosystem compounded by challenges of climate change, a growing world population, pressure on land and water, food-induced health problems, and pandemics such as Covid-19.

This has led to the consensus that conventional agriculture does not provide all the solutions to these challenges and there is a need for collaborative agricultural research throughout the agricultural value chain in a bid to strengthen the food system, improve production, enhance food security and improve livelihoods.

This was the harmonious tone of all the speakers drawn from academia, government, and the private sector during the first virtual roundtable organised by JKUAT and Biovision Foundation, April 14, 2020.

The virtual meeting dubbed Transforming agricultural research funding towards sustainability, aimed at providing substantial inputs on the status of funding flows to agricultural research in sub-Saharan Africa and how they shape food and farming pathways.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Biovison Foundation, Dr. Frank Eyhorn said research institutions, government, and donors need to find alternative models to agricultural research especially on funding.

Dr. Eyhorn believes that to have sustainable agricultural research we need well-coordinated resources, longer funding cycles, and structured investment in agricultural research.

“To accelerate this change, there is a need to shift towards long-term, pooled funding models; co-design projects with beneficiaries; increase the share of funding; and increase transparency in how projects are funded, monitored and measured for impact,” said Dr. Eyhorn.

Principal, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Prof. David Mburu said the agricultural ecosystem needs to understand that universities and research institutions are knowledge centres that create technological innovations to drive growth and development in a country.

“To strengthen our food systems and enhance food security, we need partnership and multidisciplinary research to deliver quick gains and solutions to both societal and industry problems,” elucidated Prof. Mburu.

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Echoing the Principal, Deputy Director, NACOSTI, Prof. Walter Oyawa said there is a need to adequately invest in multi-disciplinary multi-sectoral research and leverage emerging technologies to find solutions to the challenges facing the society.

While acknowledging that funding for research has stagnated in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, the CEO, National Research Fund, Dr. Jemima Onsare said agricultural research has always taken the biggest chunk of the country’s research budget adding “Kenya has a robust national innovation and research system, political will and able partners that agricultural researchers can leverage on for sustainable development.”

KALRO Deputy Director-General Crops, Dr. Felisters Makini on her part said the research ecosystem needs a proper and structured research funding strategy complemented by government policies to tackle the challenge of inadequate research funding and poor linkage among researchers and research institution.

“As KALRO we have encouraged collaborative research and peer partnerships to enable us to be aware of the research activities going on in the country and strengthen linkages,” said Dr. Makini.

Deputy Director Agriculture, Ministry of Agriculture, Jane Wambugu said there is a need to research other forms of food to supplement the Kenyan staple food, Maize, saying rapid population growth, poverty, unsustainable production systems, and climate change pose the biggest challenge to sustainable food production, consumption, and patterns.

“To contribute towards food security, improve nutrition and improve livelihood maize flour blending with underutilized high-value crops is vital,” said Wambugu.

To effectively sustain the food system through research, Biovision Foundation Project Manager, Advocacy and Policy, Dr. Charlotte Pavageau said government and policymakers need to build bridges between different parts of the research world while capturing the benefits of agroecology by measuring food system outcomes holistically.

The virtual roundtable was moderated by the Dean, School of Food and Nutrition Sciences, Prof. Daniel Sila, and is the first session in a series of three.

The roundtable series seeks to analyze the report on investments in agriculture research in quantitative terms, and also sheds light on the political economy behind these investments to identify an opportunity for change.

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