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Plant breeders charged to free Africa from food insecurity and poverty

By: Ama Amankwah Baafi
Dr Sagre Bambangi (9th right)   the Deputy Minister of Food and Agriculture, and  Prof. Eric Yirenkyi Danquah (8th right) the interim President of the APBA, with some interim executive members of the APBA and some invited dignitaries at the maiden conference.
Dr Sagre Bambangi (9th right) the Deputy Minister of Food and Agriculture, and Prof. Eric Yirenkyi Danquah (8th right) the interim President of the APBA, with some interim executive members of the APBA and some invited dignitaries at the maiden conference.

A Deputy Minister of Food and Agriculture in charge of annual crops, Dr Sagre Bambangi, has charged stakeholders in agriculture to work together to find effective and efficient solutions to the problems that confront agriculture.

He said that given the scarce resources, it was crucial for stakeholders in the sector such as national agricultural research institutions, the private sector, civil society groups, development partners and other government agencies, to work together for the continent’s success.

Dr Banbangi noted that for the vast majority and the growing population in Africa, food was not only insufficient but also difficult to access.

“Our plight is worsening not only by erratic weather changes but also exploitation of natural resources critical to the growth of food for the burgeoning population.

“We cannot end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture if we do not strive hard at attaining the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 17 (partnership for the goals),” he stated at the launch of the African Plant Breeders Association (APBA) and its maiden international conference in Accra”.

The 3-day event, which brought together over 300 scientists, researchers, national agriculture policy makers, students and professionals from both private and public sectors was organised by the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI), at the University of Ghana, Legon, on the theme, “Advances in classical breeding and application of modern breeding tools for food and nutrition security in Africa.”

The broad objective of the conference was to share knowledge, build partnerships, generate and publicise solutions to modernise breeding programmes for the transformation of agriculture in Africa.

It was also to discuss a wide variety of issues impeding food security in Africa. 

Importance of plant breeding
Dr Bambangi said plant breeding was widely recognised as one of the most important tools that existed to tackle global food production, food security, new pests and diseases and the challenges of climate change. 

He explained that through the introduction of new variety, plant breeders delivered benefits to farmers, primary processors (such as millers) and ultimately, the public and other users along the public chain.     

“Ultimately informing the policy debate on the importance of genetic crop improvement for environmental and socio-economic objective through unbiased qualitative and quantitative impact is a must for such science-based should be widely available and should be a starting point for plant breeding in Africa,” he stated.

He said elsewhere, there had been tremendous advances in the use of science and technology to address food and nutrition insecurity.

Thus, he said, the convening of plant breeders from across Africa and beyond was opportune, given the urgency with which plant breeding must inform food production on the continent.

“I urge you the executive of the APBA to engage the Africa Union (AU), sub-regional organisations, governments and other value-chain actors to roll out an ambitious plan of action to work towards meeting SDG 2 (zero hunger) and the continent’s agric agenda as envisioned by the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) Agenda 2063,” he urged.

Dr Banbangi said the government would continue to engage agric research institutions such as WACCI to guide the ‘Ghana beyond aid ‘agenda and also work hard to pass the ‘Bill for the National Research Fund’ currently before Parliament.  

The interim President of the APBA, Prof. Eric Yirenkyi Danquah, said the association was a remarkable platform that would truly represent the interests of African plant breeders on a continent-wide scale.
Prof. Danquah, who is also the Founding Director of the WACCI, noted that Africa was the only continent struggling to achieve SDG 2 (end hunger, achieve food security and promote sustainable agric) and so, plant breeding offered a huge opportunity for reaching productivity levels on African farms for structural transformation.
Agriculture, he said, presented the easiest part in economic transformation and industrialisation but the continent lagged behind others in modern plant breeding techniques.

“Our belief that Africa can become a developed continent in our lifetime was the driving force to create this platform.

“It is our hope that this will provide a one-stop-shop for African plant breeders and actors in the commodity value chains to interact with development partners to share knowledge, build networks, generate and publicise solutions to the myriad of challenges that stand in Africa’s way of increasing productivity of the staple crops that hold key to the transformation of Africa’s agric socio-economic development,” he stated.

He emphasised that the APBA was all about conversations to empower the next generation of African plant breeders to become game changers and history makers to ensure an Africa without aid.

The Provost, College of Basic and Applied Sciences at the University of Ghana, Legon, Prof. Daniel Asiedu, said while great progress had been made globally, the untapped agricultural potential of sub-Saharan Africa had contributed to extreme poverty and deteriorating food nutrient security with 240 million people hungry.

The said there was the urgent need for drastic change within the food and agricultural system in sub-Sahara Africa if the region was to attain SDG 2.

“This has implications for strengthening centres of innovation for the development of game-changing products needed for the transformation of agric in sub-Sahara Africa,” he said.

Agric Hub
Meanwhile, the Kofi Annan Enterprise hub for Agricultural Innovation (KAEHAI) has been established at the WACCI to equip the youth in Africa to birth ideas which will grow into agribusinesses.