Nearly 100 researchers gathered at Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) in Morogoro, Tanzania, Nov. 13-15 for a conference titled “Climate Change, Sustainable Intensification and Food Security in Sub-Saharan Africa.”
The conference was hosted by SUA , the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and the Innovative Agricultural Research Initiative (iAGRI) — a major food security project in Tanzania funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and administered by CFAES’s Office of International Programs in Agriculture (IPA). The Ohio State University leads a consortium of five other U.S. land grant universities to implement iAGRI, a project designed to strengthen SUA’s training and research capacity.
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.
Two-thirds of Tanzanians work in agriculture
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, SUA’s director of research and post-graduate studies, at the conference’s opening session. “In order to adapt to climate change and variability and address land degradation, African agriculture must be revitalized through innovative strategies and practices that will enable the sector to deliver to its full capacity.”
Nearly 50 papers were presented on 11 related themes, including degraded lands rehabilitation through forestry and agro-forestry, nutrient and water management, and human dimensions of terrestrial carbon management.
Rattan Lal, Distinguished University Professor in CFAES’s School of Environment and Natural Resources and director of the school’s Carbon Management and Sequestration Center, asked the conference participants during his keynote address to visualize a coin 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, Ohio State professor emeritus 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.
Elation over the outcomes
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 can fuel future research collaborations. Dr. David Kraybill, iAGRI’s project director and a professor in CFAES’s Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics, was elated with the outcomes of the conference, especially 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,” Dr. Kraybill said. He added that in the future, iAGRI “hopes to broaden the discussion to engage scientists, policy-makers and farmers about sustainable adaptation to climate change.” A followup conference on climate change in Africa is already planned for 2014.
Aligned with Ohio State Discovery Theme
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’s Food Production and Security Discovery Theme. Along with Food Production and Security, Ohio State determined in 2012 that Energy and Environment and Health and 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,” Dr. Erbaugh said, “the iAGRI project and other international projects administered through the IPA office make important contributions to the Discovery Theme knowledge base.”
Laura Alexander and Samantha Alvis of iAGRI contributed to this story. (Photo: iAGRI.)