InnovAfrica, the first project funded under the EU Africa Research & Innovation Partnership, a cooperation between EU and AU (the African Union) was launched at ILRI campus, Nairobi on the 5th of June, 2017 in the presence of several scientists, policy makers and managers. Putting farmers first, was the main message that emerged at the kick off meeting.

Nils Vagstad, Director General, NIBIO in his address hoped that the words of Prof. M. S. Swaminathan, “From know how to do how”, will truly apply to InnovAfrica achievements after 4 years of research.

Jimmy Smith, Director General, ILRI, addressing in the plenary emphasized that “Innovation” should not just be another buzzword, and hoped that InnovAfrica will work to make innovations benefit farmers.

InnovAfrica_workshop

InnovAfrica is an ambitious and important project, aiming for sustainable agriculture and enhanced food and nutritional security in Africa. More than 50 project participants from nearly 20 agencies and other representatives from FARA, AATF, IMBARAGA, the European Commission gathered at the kick off workshop. Project Coordinator, Udaya Sekhar Nagothu, is full of expectations for what the partnerships in the project can bring and what impacts and synergies can come out of it.

The initiative came directly from the European Commission DG Agriculture and Rural Development, and InnovAfrica is a prestigious project for both NIBIO, BecA-ILRI Hub and the European Union. As coordinators they will play an important role leading this project.

The background is the EU-Africa Joint Strategy, which has the intention of moving beyond a donor/recipient relationship towards long-term cooperation on jointly identified, mutual and complementary interests based on principles of ownership, partnership and solidarity. Policy officer with the European Commission, Agnieszka Romanowicz, said that EU has high expectations from  the project. She pointed out that the project plans for capacity building and uptake of research through Multi-Actor Platforms in the 6 target countries identified in InnovAfrica to be one of  the tipping factors  in favour of this project over others in the evaluation process. “The EC is not looking for research for the bookshelves with this project, but research for implementation and making a difference to farmer  society”, she commented, stressing that a long publication list is not necessarily a sign of great project impact.

As a member of the InnovAfrica Advisory Board, Ephraim Mukisira, Chairman, Board of Directors, FARA, emphasized that it important to see what impact InnovAfrica can bring to the farming community. This was also supported by Yemi Akinbamijo, Executive Director, FARA who reiterated that projects like InnovAfrica should help farmers to increase their income at the end of the day.  It matters how scientists reach out to African rural areas by bringing the research out to the farmer. The consortium and the EC  is positive that InnovAfrica will live up to the expectations and ambitions, working together with the farmers in developing innovative solutions for getting from know how to do how.

Juvenal Misune
Juvenal Misune explaining how farmers would like to be involved in research. Photo: BecA-ILRI Hub/Ethel Makila

From the farmer’s perspective, Juvenal Misune (Program Officer at IMBARAGA, Rwanda) also expressed great expectations from InnovAfrica, and that the project is giving farmers an opportunity to be actively involved from start is positive. “Farmers want to be considered the change makers, not the observers”, says Misune.

It is a well constructed consortium with a  mix of partners including scientific institutes, universities, farmer organisations, government agencies and SMEs, is a deliberate attempt to bring the varied experience together,  inorder to create innovative solutions to address the biggest  challenge of feeding a growing population in an uncertain future.

During the week, the project group visited farmers who had been involved in testing the use of Brachiaria grass in cooperation with one of the partner institutes, KALRO (Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization) and the regional agricultural extension service.

The planned methods for reaching farmers and creating a platform for knowledge transfer by using stakeholder involvement and village knowledge centres have been successful in several projects in India funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway, coordinated by Dr Udaya Sekhar Nagothu (ClimaRice and ClimaAdapt projects). Using these methods in Africa is a kind of transfer of knowledge and methodology between continents.

Representatives of 16 partners from 11 countries in Africa and the EU (including NIBIO, Norway, BecA-ILRI Hub, Haramaya University, KALRO, KENAFF, University of Malawi, SFHC, RAB, IAKIB, Sokoine University of Agriculture, University of Tuscia, Alterra, NMBU, ARC, CIMMYT and KIAG) took part in the workshop. These partners will be cooperating the next 4 years and will work on validating and upscaling several innovations in six case countries with the help of Multi-Actor Platforms set up in each country.