Ms Mellissa Wood is the director of the Australian International Food Security Centre [AIFSC].
The Australian prime minister established AIFSC as part of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) to strengthen the Australian government’s contribution to global food security. The Observer’s Wilber Muhwezi interviewed Ms Wood online about opportunities for Uganda in particular.
To what extent is food insecurity a problem in Africa and Uganda in particular?
Sadly, the latest State of the World’s Food Insecurity report highlights that one in eight people go hungry in the world today. In Africa this situation is almost twice as bad, with closer to one in four people hungry. This equates to about 240 million Africans.
In Uganda, about a third of the population is undernourished. So, food insecurity is a massive issue for Uganda and Africa as a whole.
Food insecurity is influenced by how much food is available, how accessible that food is to people (primarily through markets), and how food is used post-production (how it’s stored, transported, processed, etc).
The AIFSC plans to fund research in each of these areas to help address food insecurity in Africa. The focus of our activities is into better understanding of how to accelerate the uptake of research innovations by the smallholder farmers of Africa.
We know that there are some great innovations, such as new seed varieties, novel agricultural and irrigation practices, new storage, and marketing and food processing opportunities that could really help boost food security across Africa. But for a range of reasons, these are not getting into the hands of the farmers who really need them.
Are you concerned about rapid population growth like that of Uganda?
Rapid population growth across Africa is a major problem for food insecurity – demand for food staples is expected to double by 2020; however, population is only one of the drivers. African countries need to not only grow more food than they do now, but also to make sure this food is nutritious, affordable and accessible to the population.
Fortunately, there is huge potential for African farmers to increase their yields and achieve this with access to the right knowledge, tools, seeds, fertilizers, water and market opportunities. In addition, increasing populations can provide additional sources of labour, markets and opportunities for greater innovation and entrepreneurship, which are so vital for establishing viable food systems.
Through the African-owned and led Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) process, which aims to boost agricultural productivity in Africa, 30 African countries have signed the compact and established processes to achieve the annual targets for increasing yields by at least 6%.
These countries are also allocating more national funds to agricultural research budgets with an aim to creating dynamic agricultural markets between nations and regions and for Africa to become a net exporter of agricultural products.
Uganda is active under this process and signed the CAADP compact in March 2010. It has a Development Strategy and Investment Plan to move towards achieving both the national and CAADP outcomes and targets.
According to your research, what is the relationship between land tenure systems and food insecurity in Africa?
Actually, we are asking ourselves the same question and one of our scoping studies is investigating this, among other things. It is investigating whether the land care approach, used to date primarily for resource conservation purposes in East Africa, can be more broadly applied to various segments of the agri-food marketing chain and possible implications of land tenure on food security.
Can the introduction of genetically engineered [GE] crops and genetically modified organisms [GMOs] be a solution to food insecurity in Africa?
Our research does not cover genetically engineered crops or other GMOs and uses conventional breeding techniques.
How much money have you spared for your food security project on the African continent?
The Centre has been allocated A$33m in its first tranche of funding, which to date, we have boosted by an average of 50% through co-contributions from our project partners.
In addition, we have also just initiated an exciting new partnership with Canada’s International Development and Research Centre (IDRC) where we have each contributed to create a new Food Security Fund of A$15m. This alliance has, in essence, added another $7.5m to boost our food security efforts.
These funds will be spent in the eastern and southern regions of the African continent. Our research is being undertaken in 10 countries: Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.