Australia’s strategic approach to aid to Africa during 2011–15 is to ‘contribute to improvement against African regional targets for eradicating extreme poverty and hunger (MDG 1), reducing child mortality, improving maternal health and increasing sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation’. The first objective of this strategy is to help selected African countries progress MDGs in areas where Australia has particular strengths, where progress is seriously off track, and where strong frameworks exist for achieving effective results. One core strategy to tackle poverty and food insecurity is to increase agricultural productivity through farming systems intensification, diversification and improved market access.
Sub-Saharan Africa is the most food-insecure region in the world, with one in three people suffering from chronic hunger. Low food crop productivity, rising food prices, increased fuel costs and the global recession have worsened food and nutrition security outcomes. ACIAR is assisting with delivering a major component (approximately A$20 million over 4 years) of the Australian Government’s enhanced engagement with Africa through the ‘Overseas Development Assistance – Food Security through Rural Development’ initiative. Australian support (of A$100 million over 4 years), which is strongly focused on country needs, is aligned with the African Union’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme and Australia’s expertise in rainfed mixed farming systems.
Since 1983, ACIAR has completed over 45 projects in Africa. Research results to date have included improved cropping systems, low-input fertiliser practices, Australian trees for various environments, vaccine for Newcastle disease in chickens, a tick-resistance diagnostic test and a tick-fever vaccine for cattle, demonstration that indigenous cattle breeds have growth potential that is equal to commercial breeds, and improved market access for cattle and grain produced by smallholders. The research is implemented through partnerships between Australian and African national and subregional research organisations as well as the CGIAR, including the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), World Agroforestry Centre, ICRISAT and CIMMYT. Australian technical knowledge and expertise is highly relevant because similar Mediterranean and subtropical production environments are found on both continents. Water constraints and soil-management challenges are also frequently quite similar. Australia’s advanced research, extension and farm-management systems experience, together with the capabilities of its formal tertiary agricultural education institutions, is relevant to human and institutional capacity building in a range of African countries. The involvement of the CGIAR reduces research transaction costs, and taps complementary research expertise.
The ACIAR research program in Africa has been developed through systematic consultations with African and Australian stakeholders. The research includes new projects under the Australia International Food Security Centre.. ACIAR research currently addresses the following aspects of sustainable agricultural development and food security:
- water management in rainfed and irrigated systems
- improvement of food crops
- cropping systems resilience and management, including conservation agriculture
- agroforestry and food systems
- poultry and ruminant disease management and production
- fisheries management, notably pearl culture
- grain and livestock value chains, especially improved smallholder access to input and produce markets.
These research areas can be grouped into three themes, focusing on increased agricultural productivity and improved food security: (1) sustainable management of natural resources; (2) better production practices, which combine improved germplasm/breeds and management/husbandry; and (3) better access to production inputs and markets.
The research tackles both technological and markets/policy challenges covering soil, water, crops, horticulture, livestock, trees and aquaculture. The role of decision-making in production and value chains is recognised. The broad systems approach integrates production management, input and market chains (with agribusiness a dominant actor), and improved varieties and breeds.
The ACIAR research program is concentrated in three African regions—eastern–central, southern and northern; and consideration is being given to possible work in West Africa. Each region has a different focus, which has emerged from consultations with partners.
In southern Africa, the research focus lies on livestock and cropping systems for previously disadvantaged farmers in South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe (with the support of ILRI; ICRISAT; CIMMYT; the Queensland Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation; and Murdoch University); and on water security in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique (with the support of the Australian National University). The research investigates the opportunity provided by the growing demand in southern Africa for meat in both domestic and export markets, and also consumer preference for higher quality meats. There is recognition of the interdependence between livestock production management and marketing chains, in which feedlots are increasingly playing a significant role. One of the major challenges is smallholder access to these profitable market chains, especially for traditional indigenous cattle breeds. In addition, the interface between livestock and crop production, notably fodder and feed, is being investigated in Zimbabwe.
In eastern and central Africa, the ‘Sustainable intensification of maize–legume cropping systems for food security in eastern and southern Africa’ (SIMLESA) project operates in five countries (Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania)—with the support of the South African Agricultural Research Council, CIMMYT, ICRISAT, and Australian partners at the University of Queensland and Murdoch University. The research focuses on the intensification and increased resilience in mixed farming systems, to achieve improved dietary energy and nutritional quality, and increased household income. Through organised spillovers of the research results, Botswana, Rwanda, Uganda and South Sudan are benefiting from this initiative. In addition, small projects have been assessing fodder markets, the role of gender in agricultural research, innovation platforms, energy and the interactions between mining and agriculture. Opportunities for research on poultry, evergreen agriculture, vegetables and peri-urban horticulture are also being explored.
In northern Africa, research is underway on different aspects of water management in Egypt; and on conservation agriculture in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, with potential extensions to other countries in the region, including Libya.. In West Africa, opportunities for research to tackle food insecurity and poverty are being explored.
Across Sub-Saharan Africa, the AIFSC is building on and adding functionality and value to ongoing ACIAR research programs, based on foresight studies, farming systems analysis and systematic consultation with potential partners in Sub-Saharan Africa and Australia. The following areas were identified for fast-track implementation, building on ongoing ACIAR efforts: evergreen agriculture embracing agroforestry and maize systems, and technology adoption and pathways. Additional topics under consideration by the AIFSC include mechanisation in conservation agriculture, smallholder poultry and small ruminant productivity, through better disease control and management and value-chain enhancement; water management in southern Africa; and indigenous and other vegetable production.