By Akkinapally Ramakrishna (November 27, 2012)
THE Association of International Research and Development Centres for Agriculture (AIRCA) was launched on 30 October 2012 at the Second Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD 2) in Punta del Este, Uruguay. The new international alliance of research institutions will try to implement the results of agricultural research and to communicate findings to smallholder farmers in developing nations effectively and timely manner.
The partnership's overall aim is to improve food security and help rural communities meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). By looking at how agriculture works across broad areas containing a range of ecosystems, such as forests and pristine habitats, AIRCA hopes to strike a productive balance between livelihood improvement for small-scale farmers and long-term environmental sustainability. The alliance will work closely by forging links with other research groups and the private sector, while keeping the alliance's bureaucracy to a minimum.
The alliance hopes that grouping together will raise the profile of members' work and improve the visibility and recognition of research and development (R&D) capacity building at grassroots level. For example, the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE), an alliance member based in Costa Rica, has been developing biodiversity awareness among local farmers.
Another alliance member in India, the Centre for Agricultural Bioscience International (CABI) has been improving farmers' access to agricultural information through mobile phone services. Serving more than 60 countries, as well as partners from across the Americas, Africa and the Asia-Pacific region, the new alliance has collective access to a wide variety of crops and ecosystems.
During a pilot phase, a common online gateway will aim to improve collaboration and allow members to share library and information tools, and reports. Currently, all centres manage their projects independently, but AIRCA hopes to develop joint project proposals for demand-driven research and capacity-building programmes.
Opportunities to identify research gaps and to collaborate with other organisations such as the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Consortium and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), as well as the private sector, have also been mooted, although these are dependent on securing financial support. The alliance will complement other agricultural research initiatives, including CGIAR, which often pursue more basic research.
AIRCA will focus more on the implementation of research: how to communicate research and innovations effectively to poor rural farmers. The alliance would also make easier to collaborate with other organisations.
The nine founding members of the alliance are: Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center (AVRDC), Centre for Agricultural Bioscience International (CABI), Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE), Crops for the Future, International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA), International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), African Insect Science for Food and Health, International Fertilizer Development Centre (IFDC), and International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBR).
Agricultural researchers in developing countries are keen to communicate their research to stakeholders and agricultural communities, but often institutional barriers and a lack of support hamper these efforts. Contributing to alleviating hunger and poverty is the key driving factor for communication and AIRCA would facilitate to overcome this gap.
Alliance such as AIRCA can help developing countries such as PNG to apply cutting-edge developments in areas such as biotechnology, nanotechnology and information and communication technology to meet the needs of the poor. But the research managers and policy makers must ensure that the research is put to the best possible use and that means ensuring that research also provides the evidence of making an impact on the lives of rural people and agricultural communities across the PNG.
NARI envisages that PNG urgently needs to focuses on the following six areas: enhancing growth to reduce poverty; promoting sustainable agriculture; boosting research on climate change; improving health treatments and systems; tackling "challenging" governance problems, and meeting future challenges and opportunities.
Premier Research Institutions like NARI and others in PNG should have specific objectives of their research strategy that include: striking a balance between creating new knowledge and technology, and putting this, and existing knowledge and technology, into use; ensuring that research makes an impact on policymakers and other stakeholders; encouraging stronger links between national, regional and global research efforts, ensuring their relevance to the priorities of PNG and the Pacific, and increasing their impact on poverty reduction; and increasing support to strengthen their capability to carry out and use research.
NARI is keen to develop, acquire and make the most of new and emerging technologies that have real relevance to the needs of poor people. These include technologies to enhance and sustain agricultural productivity, purify drinking water, diagnose pest and diseases, store and convert energy, and improve food processing and storage.
Dr Raghunath Ghodake, Director General of NARI, says “the new strategy recognises that one function of research is to reduce uncertainty over the potential applications of new and emerging technologies”. But he adds that “NARI will need institutional innovations that facilitate the practical application of new knowledge.
The attainment of the MDGs requires an extensive and intensive application of science and technology and PNG scientists and their education and research institutions should therefore be provided with adequate and sustainable financial and research facilities to enable this to take place”.
Photo: NARI Staff distributing taro and African yam tubers at the Morobe Provincial Agriculture Show in October 2012