The Eastern Africa Grain Council (EAGC), a private sector membership organization in the region, has partnered with the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA), in a bid to improve integration of agricultural research and development in the region. This was achieved through a recent meeting hosted by ASARECA and EAGC to bring private sector to the research agenda, given that they are the drivers, the contributors and users of Agricultural research in the region. The meeting was held at the Hilton Hotel, Nairobi, Kenya and brought together over 60 representatives from the private sector and the researchers from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi.
Speaking at the meeting, the Executive Director of the Eastern Africa Grain Council Mr. Masila noted that time was ripe to bridge the gap between agriculture research, industry and private sector requirements.
“It is clear that a lot has been developed in research but the rate of uptake was not as fast. Private sector should be involved in setting the agenda for agricultural research from the problem identification process, be part of data collection and analysis, so that the uptake can be incorporated in research” Mr. Masila added.
Mr. Masila called on the researchers and the private sector to join hands and develop technologies and innovations, which would address these challenges in Africa. He noted that traditionally, the private sector was relatively underrepresented in agricultural research and development (R&D) representing less than 10% of total agricultural R&D spending, with the rest being taken up by public sector and development partners.
Giving a key note address, the ASARECA Executive Director, Dr. Fina Opio noted that the private sector was relatively underrepresented in the process of agricultural research and development. She added that according to a recent study done by the International Food Policy Research Institute, it was found that technologies imported from foreign sources by private companies were the primary drivers of innovation in areas of crop protection, agrochemicals, poultry farming, agricultural machinery and processing.
However, she noted that the private sector in Africa was increasingly getting involved in setting priorities of agricultural research and development, and implementation of projects alongside researchers and farmers. She added that ASARECA was in partnership with National Research institutions (223), universities (59), international research institutions (33), private sector (22), government agents (45), NGOs (37), others (7), thus the need to up the number of private sector partners.
“The private companies are now more visible in the release of new varieties, provision of extension services alongside farm inputs, veterinary care, food storage, processing, storage, and packaging that are enabling many products to meet strict quality and hygiene standards”, added Dr. Opio.
She cited that for example Kenya had released 140 new crop varieties, 30% from private sector, Uganda released 27 varieties, 50% from private sector, Tanzania released 121 varieties, 30% from private sector and Sudan released 243 varieties, all from public sector. The total welfare gain for the ECA region is estimated to be over US$ 727 million.
Participants at the meeting agreed that research should follow a clear path along the value chain that can be accepted and implemented by the farmer at the end. They noted that today in East Africa, there is no breeder in maize that had released more than 2 varieties or commercialized the maize varieties hence the call for policy makers, private sector, researcher and farmers to support the research process.
In conclusion, the partners agreed to form a platform for engagement between private sector and researchers. This they noted would be achieved through periodic research fairs to show case validated technologies, innovations and management practices, participation and engagement of private sector in research agenda, advocacy in policy reforms led by private sector players, coordination of rapid response to emerging concerns led by private sector players e.g research on the maize lethal necrotic disease, training of private sector players, establishment of a platform for private sector to exchange with researchers and partner with the media to move research from research environments to practice.
Some of the firms represented at the meeting included Uplands Rice Limited and Victoria Seeds (Uganda), Union Stores and Kibo Seeds (Tanzania), Kenya Seed (Kenya), GrainPro Inc (Kenya), COPROVIBA ( Rwanda), and AGRIBOTEC (Burundi)