Scientific innovation plays a key role in equipping Africa’s smallholder farmers to adapt to the impacts of climate change. But before African researchers can develop the solutions and innovations that farmers need, they must first be scientists of uncompromising quality.
Supporting African agricultural scientists, particularly women, to develop their research skills is essential, not only for African food security but also for global food security. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to a quarter of the world’s arable land but to date, produces just 10 per cent of its agricultural output, leaving an enormous source of potential untapped. African researchers – and African agriculture – stand to benefit, then, from sharing knowledge, expertise and best practices across borders, allowing scientists to develop their own networks and insights that ultimately contribute to more sustainable, climate-smart food systems.
The One Planet Fellowship is a great example of Europe-Africa collaboration that supports the professional development of African agricultural researchers, which has led to the joint publishing of new peer-reviewed research and joint fund-raising efforts.
Launched in 2019, the One Planet Fellowship is among more than 40 coalitions of the One Planet Summit, which accelerates efforts towards the objectives of the Paris Agreement by building a robust pipeline of African researchers equipped to lead climate change research in Africa.
In the first instance, the Fellowship pairs laureate candidates with research supervisors and mentors at European institutions for their own development, as well as linking the candidates with emerging European and African scientists under the age of 30 years, known as Learning Partners, to whom they serve as mentors. This model creates an intergenerational network of global researchers addressing the multidimensional impacts of climate change.
Pooling agricultural climate research can help fast-track solutions that benefit farmers directly. For example, researching soil fertility and using crop modelling like Dr Austin Phiri, a One Planet Laureate Candidate from Malawi, can improve the resilience of farmers as they deal with the impacts of climate change, and empower them to make decisions about fertiliser application and planting.
In addition, the Fellowship initiative, which has reached 260 direct beneficiaries from 14 African countries to date, also provides fora in which scientists can exchange ideas and research trends.
For example, a recent science forum was the culmination of a two-week study tour of Belgium, France and Italy for the Laureate Candidates and their mentors. The event reinforced the value of partnerships to help advance research and innovations.
As Professor Sheila Okoth, the One Planet Fellowship Science Advisor, pointed out, the Fellowship embodies our common denominator: one planet. Its approach brings together participants to further their research, ensuring the development of relevant innovations and building networks of knowledge.
Dr. Edwige Some Tiertou, a Laureate Candidate from Burkina Faso, is among the scientists taking part in the Fellowship’s Advanced Science Training (AST) at the University of Montpellier to enhance her skills in designing options to build farmers’ resilience against climate change and engaging policymakers for widespread uptake of her research.
Initiatives like the One Planet Fellowship are also an opportunity to unite investments into agricultural research from the private sector, civil society, public research and private philanthropy. As Delphine Gluzman from the BNP Paribas Foundation highlighted, limited philanthropic investment into climate research should be the catalyst for more creative, blended private-public funding partnerships.
Europe and Africa may be facing different degrees of the same challenges, but the reality is that issues like climate change, food security and sustainable food systems affect every corner of our One Planet. Working together to combine and harness our collective scientific power is the quickest route to the solutions that will support a more resilient and equitable future.