Stories tagged: sustainable agriculture

The Malabo Montpellier Panel Forum Explores How Nature-Based Innovation is Propelling Africa’s Bioeconomy

Investing in more science and innovation to support a growing, sustainable bioeconomy will help to build Africa’s resilience against future crises, the 10th Malabo Montpellier Forum heard.

The bioeconomy, broadly referring to the production and use of renewable biological resources, was also the focus of a report launched at the meeting. In ‘Nature’s Solutions: Policy Innovations & Opportunities for Africa’s Bioeconomy’, the Malabo Montpellier Panel of 18 leading scientists set out how African biosolutions such as mosquito-repelling plants and cooking fuel made from fruit waste can help create greener, stronger economies across the continent. 

The vital role of regional efforts

Held in a virtual format on Tuesday, May 24, the Forum brought together representatives from African governments, the private sector, civil society and others to explore the opportunities for the African bioeconomy. The meeting, which first outlined the report findings and recommendations, also included a policy roundtable with a wide range of stakeholders.

Participants raised the issue of how countries can learn from each other, but also how local bioeconomies can amplify one another, acting as mutually reinforcing drivers of growth. 

Citing East Africa as having recently become the first economic bloc to have a regional bioeconomic strategy, Dr. Julius Ecuru, head of BioInnovate Africa – a regional science and innovation-driven initiative – emphasized why this is crucial for a strong bioeconomic landscape on the continent.  

“We need cooperation in science and technology at a regional level to leverage each other’s scientific expertise and capabilities,” he said. “We need economies at scale at the regional level to effectively participate in the global market.” 

H.E. Dr. Assia Bensalah Alaoui, Ambassador at Large to His Majesty King Mohamed VI of Morocco and Co-Chair of the Malabo Montpellier Forum, called for support for innovation in the African bioeconomy.

Innovating African solutions

In closing the event, H.E. Dr. Assia Bensalah Alaoui, Ambassador at Large to His Majesty King Mohamed VI of Morocco and Co-Chair of the Malabo Montpellier Forum, underscored the need to galvanize support for innovation. In her closing remarks, she called for more investments in education, research, and development to create homegrown solutions. 

“We have to develop our own approaches. Bioeconomics allows us to leverage our own natural wealth and human capacity to build durable, sustainable, solutions,” she said.  

The need for resilience

In his speech, H.E. Hailemariam Dessalegn, Former Prime Minister of the Republic of Ethiopia and Co-Chair of the Malabo Montpellier Forum, stressed the need for resilience – a concept often interlinked with the bioeconomy. 

As he described how the war in Ukraine was testing Africa’s ability to withstand shocks and prolonged stress, he noted the urgent need for new, nature-friendly approaches.  

“Developing a sustainable bioeconomy for Africa could not be more timely,” H.E. Hailemariam Dessalegn said, remarking on the theme of the report. “It is of particular importance this year, with the UN biodiversity and climate conference on the horizon.”

H.E. Hailemariam Dessalegn, Former Prime Minister of the Republic of Ethiopia and Co-Chair of the Malabo Montpellier Forum, stressed the need for resilience.

The holistic ambitions of bio-driven solutions were further discussed by Eng. Dr. Dorothy Okello of Makerere University. In her presentation, she underlined how a well-developed bioeconomy can help the continent tackle not only environmental challenges, but a wide set of global development issues.

“A sustainable and secular bioeconomy can serve a broad range of development needs, from food and nutrition to energy and decent jobs,” she explained. 

The Malabo Montpellier Forum is a group that meets twice per year, acting as a platform to facilitate dialogue and exchange among high-level decision-makers to help propel African countries towards inclusive economic growth. 

A recording of the 10th iteration of the Forum can be viewed here.

Why the Sustainable Development Goals Matter to the Plant Science Industry

Giulia Di Tommaso, President and CEO of CropLife International Continue reading

COVID-19 and its Impacts on Global Food Security: A Chicago Council Online Discussion

With its Global Food Security Symposium postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Chicago Council held an online discussion about the global food security challenges posed by the pandemic, hosted by The Washington Post’s ‘Business of Food’ reporter, Laura Reily. Continue reading

Two Innovations Transforming India’s Potato Sector

Navin Horo, National Project Coordinator of the ProSoil project, and Lukas Hanke, Intern at Green Innovation Centres for the Agriculture and Food Sector – India Continue reading

Professor Weifeng Zhang Wins IFA Norman Borlaug Award

Professor Weifeng Zhang from the China Agricultural University in Beijing has been awarded the International Fertilizer Association’s Norman Borlaug Award for steering China towards smarter fertilizer use while also improving productivity. 

At the turn of the century China faced one of its biggest challenges: how to feed a growing, increasingly urbanized population on less land.

The country’s food security relies on its 200 million smallholder farmers. Any hopes of China sustainably feeding itself relies on ensuring that they have all the right tools at their disposal to become more productive and efficient.

This year’s International Fertilizer Association’s Norman Borlaug Award winner, Professor Weifeng Zhang, has been an instrumental part of achieving this goal.

He has been a driving force behind several initiatives and government policies in recent years that have bolstered China’s ability to feed a growing population, while also reducing the environmental impact of more intensive farming.

This forward thinking has played a significant part in China’s ongoing development, which has already seen 800 million people lifted out of poverty and 155 million people spared from hunger and malnutrition since 1990.

His work to transform China’s agriculture has not only helped the country feed itself today, but also tomorrow.

“Under China’s economic reforms of the past 40 years, agriculture has swiftly stepped up to the challenge of feeding the country. The fresh objective of the last few years has been to find a way to continue to do so in a more efficient, more sustainable way,” said Prof. Zhang.

“This has involved a huge joint effort involving the government, industry and research institutes, and I’m delighted our work has been recognised with this award,” he added.

The national fertilizer database 

With fertilizer use efficiency as low as 27 per cent in China at the turn of the century, poor nutrient management and productivity yield gaps had to be addressed.

Prof. Zhang’s research inspired several initiatives and government policies and reforms, bolstering China’s ability to feed its growing population, while also reducing the environmental impact of more intensive farming. 

He helped to develop a national fertilizer database, which identified inefficiencies in fertilizer use. It also helped the government recognise that farmers were applying more mineral fertilizer than was effective, leading to diminished returns and putting additional strain on the environment.

In light of Prof. Zhang’s findings, the government introduced a “zero growth by 2020” policy for fertilizer use, while also reviewing public subsidies for farmers. The zero growth target was achieved by 2017, well ahead of schedule.

Adopting best scientific practices

To complement the national fertilizer database, Prof. Zhang helped China to also establish the Science and Technology Backyard initiative, which has helped promote cutting edge agricultural science. Agricultural scientists spend up to eight months of the year living in villages with farmers to help train them in best practices, including proper nutrient management.

This initiative identified 10 factors contributing to a yield gap, including poor fertilizer management, and helped shape a series of corrective measures. This led to an increase in nitrogen efficiency of 20 per cent, while farmers were able to achieve up to 97 per cent of their attainable yield, from as low as 67 per cent previously.

Such best management practices are underpinned by the 4R principles of applying the right nutrient source using the right dose at the right time and in the right place. This is highlighted in an industry handbook produced by the International Fertilizer Association (IFA), the World Farmers’ Organisation (WFO) and the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture (GACSA), which has also been translated into Chinese and is distributed to thousands of farmers and farm advisors.

Prof Zhang’s vision utilised a science-led approach to agriculture and leveraged community-based interventions to embed best practice among smallholder farmers. He helped to galvanise the state not only as a regulator and policymaker, but as an educator and community facilitator.

This helped ensure that his vision was instilled among smallholder farmers across China while equipping them with the right tools and science to boost their yields.

A blueprint for green success

By successfully helping China find the tools needed to maximise agricultural efficiency and close productivity gaps, Prof Zhang has given China, and the world, a roadmap for countries to adopt and scale up.

With global food security and climate change presenting an ongoing challenge, China can do yet more to make agriculture more sustainable. If these partnerships which Prof Zhang helped develop remain, it is a strong foundation on which to build greater resilience against the climate shocks that the country’s farmers will face.

Prof Zhang’s science-based approach to help agriculture become constantly smarter will help not only China adapt to changing climates and a growing, urbanised population, but can benefit the rest of the world as well.

Investing in Technology Transfer to Ensure no Farmer is Left Behind

As part of our agroecology in action series, Arianna Giuliodori, Secretary General of the World Farmers’ Organization talks to Farming First about how technologies and innovations should be made more widely available for farmers. 

Farming lies at the heart of many of the world’s most urgent challenges. The farming sector will therefore play a key role in defining the path for future sustainable solutions.

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