Nearly 100 researchers gathered at Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) in Morogoro, Tanzania from November 13th-15th for a conference entitled “Climate Change, Sustainable Intensification and Food Security in Sub-Saharan Africa”. The conference was hosted by SUA , Norwegian University of Agriculture, and iAGRI - a major food security project in Tanzania funded by USAID and administered by the Office of International Programs in Agriculture (IPA) in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES). The Ohio State University leads a consortium of five other U.S. land grant universities to implement iAGRI, a project designed to strengthen the training and research capacity of Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania.
Presenters and discussions at the conference, which spanned three days, addressed climate change as an overarching major challenge to agricultural and food systems in sub-Saharan Africa. According to the Feed the Future Initiative - the U.S. government’s primary global hunger and food security program - sub-Saharan Africa is chronically vulnerable to food insecurity due to increasing population and concomitant increased demand for food. Additional challenges to agricultural production attributable to climate change include temperature changes, shifts in rainfall, droughts, floods, degraded soils, plant pests and animal diseases.
Given that two-thirds of the Tanzanian workforce is employed in agriculture, the country’s long-term economic success hinges on discovering novel ways to make agricultural production more adaptive and sustainable. “While agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa is the basis for the economies and livelihoods of its people, it has remained largely deficient in adopting and adapting important innovative approaches for sustained growth,” said Vedasto Muhikambele, Director of Research and Post-Graduate Studies at SUA, at the conference’s opening session. “In order to adapt to climate change, variability and address land degradation, African agriculture must be revitalized through innovative strategies and practices that will enable the sector deliver to its full capacity”.
Nearly 50 papers were presented on eleven related themes including degraded lands rehabilitation through forestry and agro-forestry, nutrient and water management, and human dimensions of terrestrial carbon management. Dr. Rattan Lal, Distinguished Professor of Soil Science and Director of the Carbon Management and Sequestration Lab at Ohio State University, asked the conference participants during a keynote address to visualize a nickel engraved with “In Soil We Trust” as a way to signify the prominent role soil plays in sequestering carbon. Dr. Lal, along with Dr. Dave Hansen, Professor Emeritus at Ohio State and iAGRI Project Coordinator, were mentors of the conference’s steering committee. In all, the conference attracted participants from 14 different countries in Africa, Europe, and North America.
One outcome of the conference was a recommendation to establish a regional climate change and food security research network, where connections made among conference participants can be maintained and fuel future research collaborations. iAGRI Project Director, Dr. David Kraybill, who is a Professor in the Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics at The Ohio State University, was elated with the outcomes of the conference , especially in its effort to involve a larger pool of stakeholders from diverse backgrounds in climate change adaptation. “The conference achieved the planning committee's goal of bringing together biological and social scientists from around the world to seek solutions to the challenges of climate change in Africa,” shared Dr. Kraybill, adding that in the future iAGRI “hopes to broaden the discussion to engage scientists, policy-makers, and farmers about sustainable adaptation to climate change”. A follow up conference on climate change in Africa is already planned for 2014.
The conference, along with the iAGRI project as whole, is particularly important in that it not only embodies the capacity-building priorities of Feed the Future, but directly aligns with Ohio State University’s Discovery Theme of Food Production and Security. Along with Food Production and Security, Ohio State University determined in 2012 that Energy & Environment and Health & Wellness were the world’s three most pressing long-term challenges, and that the University’s research and strategic planning should seek to advance knowledge-building in those particular fields.
According to IPA Director Mark Erbaugh, IPA serves a vital role in this discovery process through its own organizational mission of internationalizing CFAES. “By addressing long term challenges in a global context, the iAGRI project and other international projects administered through the IPA Office make important contributions to the Discovery Theme knowledge base,” says Dr. Erbaugh.
Authored by Beau Ingle, email@example.com
Laura Alexander and Samantha Alvis of iAGRI contributed to this story. Photos credited to iAGRI