NUI Galway Establishes Collaborative Research Programme on Africa's Staple Crops

Monday, 11 January 2010

Minister of State for Overseas Development, Mr Peter Power T.D. has announced details of funding for crop research involving collaborations between NUI Galway Botany and Plant Science and leading agricultural research centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) in the developing world. The research will facilitate efforts to increase agricultural productivity and improve nutrition and livelihoods of the rural poor in Africa. The Irish Aid support is directed towards the agricultural research institutes of the CGIAR, a coalition of fifteen international agricultural research centres located in developing countries. The mandate of the non-profit CGIAR research system is to achieve sustainable food security and reduce poverty in developing countries through scientific research and research-related activities in the fields of agriculture, forestry, fisheries, policy, and environment. Irish plant scientist Professor Charles Spillane, who has previously worked for the CGIAR and is now Head of Botany and Plant Science at NUI Galway, indicated: "For strengthening of food and livelihood security in Sub-Saharan Africa, there is an urgent need for greater investment in such pro-poor research partnerships focussed specifically on the crops and varieties grown and consumed by the rural poor in Africa. The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), one of the CGIAR crop research centres, is now establishing such collaborations with Irish universities, including NUI Galway and University College Cork". Professor Spillane added: "There are a number of factors that are now rapidly converging to aggravate the state of food insecurity, including population increases, changing consumption patterns, growing demand for meat and dairy (especially grain-fed), growing demand for biofuels, scarcity of land and water, slowing of agricultural productivity, and adverse impacts of climate change. Britain s chief scientist Professor John Beddington warned at the Oxford Farming Conference of an emerging "perfect storm" of food, water and energy shortages by 2030, where food prices would rise, more people would go hungry, and people are likely to flee the worst-affected regions in their millions. To ensure food supplies at current consumption rates will require a doubling of food and animal feed production by 2050 through increases in productivity (yield per hectare) while using less energy, fertilisers and water. In this context, the research of the CGIAR and its partners worldwide is critical to generating the improvements in agricultural productivity and sustainability necessary to improve the food security situation for the world's poor". Professor Spillane indicated that the collaborative research projects with IITA will initially focus on approaches for improving productivity of East African Highland bananas, a major staple food crop grown by poor smallholder farmers and essential to the food security for over 20 million people in the Great Lakes Region of East Africa. This project will be conducted in collaboration with East African banana breeder Dr Jim Lorenzen based at IITA's research station in Kampala, Uganda. The second research project will pursue efforts to elevate vitamin A levels in varieties of yellow maize consumed by the poor across Africa, in order to provide valuable options for combating micronutrient deficiencies in malnourished children and adults. This project will be conducted in collaboration with maize breeder Dr Menkir Abebe, based at IITA's research headquarters in Ibadan, Nigeria. Minister Power said: "We know that over one billion people in the world are hungry today. We urgently need practical and sustainable solutions to reverse this unconscionable situation. Scientific research which is designed to improve agricultural productivity is critical to addressing the challenges of hunger and food security, particularly in the context of climate change and a growing world population. Ireland, because of our history and commitment to development, has played a pivotal role in the global fight against hunger. The eradication of hunger is a cornerstone of Irish Aid's overseas development programme". Professor Spillane also highlighted that the collaborative research with the CGIAR which Irish Aid is funding will contribute to the implementation of the Hunger Task Force recommendations. It will also play an important role in ongoing efforts to raise the profile of plant and agricultural research for international development within Irish universities, and developing a cadre of scientists in Ireland who are focused on research for development. Professor Spillane stressed that we have now entered an era where increases in food production and agricultural productivity will have to be achieved in combination with efforts to ensure more equitable access to food, if global food insecurity and malnutrition is to be reduced to meet the Millennium Development Goals.
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