Smart agriculture research centre can help to pool resources

An African Centre for Innovation and Smart Agriculture (ACISA) will be set up in Tunisia with technical and financial assistance from Japan in a bid to promote Africa-Japan cooperation in innovation, training, higher education, research, climate-smart agriculture and the creation of start-ups in the field of agriculture.

The initiative was discussed at a side event entitled ‘Fostering cooperation between Africa and Japan in the fields of agricultural innovation, vocational training, extension, research and higher education’ that formed part of the eighth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD8), held in Tunis, Tunisia, from 27-28 August.

Tunisia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Water Resources and Fisheries, in cooperation with the Agricultural Extension and Training Agency, the Institution of Agricultural Research and Higher Education and the African Platform for Innovation and Networking were part of the hybrid gathering.

Innovation and smart agriculture

The new centre’s aims, which include the strengthening of the continent’s agricultural resilience to climate change, are outlined in the event’s concept paper.

The aims are strongly aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), pursuing: no poverty (SDG 1); zero hunger (SDG 2); decent work and economic growth (SDG 8); responsible consumption and production patterns (SDG 12); and partnerships for achieving the SDGs (SDG 17).

Aminata Diasse-Sarr, the director of the Higher Vocational Education Institute (ISEP) of Matam in Senegal, told University World News that ACISA was similar to a centre of excellence in research, innovation and the teaching of agriculture, which will be equipped with all the smart equipment it requires, and will operate in accordance with the highest standards.

“African agricultural faculties and higher education institutions could benefit from ACISA as an instrument to promote new ideas and they can share their various experiences and human resources,” said Diasse-Sarr.

Expanding further, Magdi Tawfik Abdelhamid, a professor of agricultural biotechnology at Cairo’s National Research Center, told University World News that, in addition to offering technical and financial support for setting up artificial intelligence, or AI-based start-ups, “ACISA must work on integrating AI courses in university agriculture programmes to promote the use of AI in agriculture, along with creating digital data agriculture food networks across Africa that serve as learning and sharing platforms for deploying AI to smallholder farmers.

“This will help with the development of human resources, scientific workforces and research capabilities for promoting the innovative use of AI in agriculture and for providing sustainable and smart food security solutions in the face of hunger, which is becoming a big problem in Africa due to climate change,” Abdelhamid said.

Innovative solutions aimed at climate change

Professor Adipala Ekwamu, the executive secretary of the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) in Uganda, told University World News that, after a period of scepticism over climate change, “we have moved past the hoax narratives of climate change to the truth that the intensity, frequency and magnitude of it is pressing much more than ever before. The extreme events, especially droughts and flash floods are now more common than ever before”.

Ekwamu added: “We are seeing more people in Africa going hungry, yields declining [and] livestock populations crashing due to climate change and we are seeing more climate migrants today.”

According to him, solutions to the challenges of climate change can be provided by innovative and adaptive research, which supports the motivation to establish ACISA.

ACISA’s impact on research

Ekwamu said ACISA could enable research collaboration in climate change, climate-smart agriculture and innovations that are happening in various universities and research centres on the continent.

“What is happening is too scattered across small research units. These need to be aggregated for the greater benefit of the African continent,” Ekwamu pointed out.

He said ACISA could help technologies on one side of the African continent to be available to another part of the continent.

“African agricultural faculties and higher education institutions could work together to demonstrate that ACISA is a relevant entity and worth its name and purpose along with advocacy and networking under the ACISA umbrella to establish a community of practice,” he said.

What he also hopes for is that ACISA can support researchers who are in a constant search for funds. Often, available funding is focused on immediate results, sometimes after one year of implementation. Unlike many of these types of initiatives, he is in favour of a long-term vision.

“There is need to shift from this approach; research is not a political rally, it is a careful process that requires patience.

“Our African researchers have delivered impactful research with limited resources. If funding through ACISA becomes available and sustainable they could do much more,” Ekwamu said.