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Root, Tuber Specialist Advocates For China-Africa Collaboration To Boost Agric Productivity

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The executive director, National Root Crops Research Institute, Umudike, Prof. Chiedozie Egesi.
The executive director, National Root Crops Research Institute, Umudike, Prof. Chiedozie Egesi.

Leveraging technological advancements and fostering collaborative research between China and Africa has been touted as a crucial factor for enhancing agricultural productivity across the Global South.

This point was made by a root and tuber crops research expert, Prof. Chiedozie Egesi, speaking at the “China-Africa Agricultural Science and Technology (S&T) Cooperation Through South-South and Triangular Cooperation Mechanism Agenda” workshop in Sanya, Hainan, China.

Egesi, who is also the executive director of the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) in Umudike, Abia State, Nigeria, participated as a panellist at the event held from June 11 to 13, 2024. He recommended several measures to catalyse agricultural productivity and sustainability, including capacity-building, joint research initiatives, infrastructure development, policy support and private sector engagement.

In his presentation, the specialist provided an overview of Africa’s agricultural landscape, categorising the continent’s main crops into staple, cash, horticultural products, and opportunity crops. He listed staple crops such as cassava, maize, yam, millet, rice, banana and sorghum. Cash crops include cocoa, oil palm, rubber, cotton, ginger, sesame and groundnuts. Horticultural products encompass fruits like citrus, mangoes, plantain and pineapples, as well as vegetables such as tomatoes and onions. Opportunity crops identified by Egesi are taro, finger millet, sweet potato, bambara and okra.

While highlighting the potential for engaging youths in agribusiness through innovation, entrepreneurship, and value addition in agro-processing, Egesi also pointed out the expanding export market opportunities for cash crops and the increasing adoption of mobile technology and precision agriculture. However, he noted that Africa still struggles to translate its advantageous agricultural landscape into economic transformation, due to several challenges which include:

1. Land Acquisition. Difficulty in acquiring arable land for large-scale farming, coupled with insufficient legal rights of ownership.

2. Infrastructure. Poor infrastructure, especially in roads and electricity, making agribusinesses unprofitable.

3. Transportation and Storage. Inadequate transportation and storage infrastructure leading to post-harvest losses.

4. Technology. Limited access to modern agricultural technologies and inputs.

5. Credit Access. Inadequate access to credit for smallholder farmers.

6. Land Tenure. Complex land ownership and tenure systems.

7. Climate Change. Erratic weather patterns, desertification, and pest and disease attacks causing significant losses.

Egesi called for collaborative research projects focusing on crop improvement and pest management, exchange programmes for scientists and researchers and joint seminars and workshops on agricultural innovation and best practices. He emphasised the importance of training and capacity building, noting that China has been involved in training African agricultural professionals and technicians.

Egesi suggested several priority areas for China-Africa agricultural S&T innovation cooperation:

1. Crop Breeding. Development of high-yield, drought-resistant, and pest-resistant crop varieties.

2. Precision Agriculture. Utilization of drones, sensors, and satellite imagery for efficient farm management.

3. Irrigation Technology. Adoption of efficient irrigation systems like drip and sprinkler irrigation.

4. Biotechnology. Application of genetic engineering for crop improvement and disease resistance.

5. Renewable Energy. Solar-powered irrigation and processing equipment to reduce dependency on unreliable power sources.

He further identified important S&T innovation fields for cooperation:

1. Crop breeding, genomics and gene technologies. Focus on developing resilient and nutritious varieties suitable for African climates.

2. Plant Protection. Integrated pest management and the development of bio-pesticides.

3. Soil Health. Techniques for soil conservation and improvement, including the use of organic fertilisers, cover-cropping and regenerative agriculture.

4. Animal Husbandry. Improvements in livestock genetics, nutrition, and veterinary care.

5. Post-harvest Technology. Innovations to reduce post-harvest losses and improve storage and processing facilities.

Egesi outlined several recommendations for advancing technological advancements and fostering collaborative research between China and Africa:

1. Capacity Building. Enhanced training programs and educational exchanges for African agricultural scientists and technicians.

2. Joint Research Initiatives. Establishment of joint research centers focusing on key areas like biotechnology, climate-smart agriculture, and sustainable farming practices.

3. Infrastructure Development. Investment in rural infrastructure, including roads, storage facilities, and market access.

4. Policy Support. Encouraging policy dialogues to create an enabling environment for agricultural innovation and technology adoption.

5. Private Sector Engagement. Promoting public-private partnerships to drive investment in the agricultural sector.

These measures, if implemented effectively, Egesi said, could transform agriculture in the Global South, driving economic growth and ensuring food security for millions.

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