IITA looks towards food and nutrition security for the next half century
The IITA Conference on Food and Nutrition Security Futures was held on 24 November at the IITA Conference Center, Ibadan, as part of the closing program of the IITA50 celebration. The symposium was the second core celebration event of IITA’s golden jubilee year with IITA scientists from the various stations and hubs and colleagues from partner organizations in attendance.
The conference was chaired by the former president of Nigeria and Honorary International Ambassador of IITA, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. The symposium aimed to find ways to harness the potential of science for the transformation of agriculture towards increased food security and economic development on the African continent. Chief Obasanjo, in his opening remarks, spoke of IITA’s impact over the years, citing the example of the cassava mealybug scourge that was tackled by IITA’s research.
He said he encountered the pest on his first attempt at cassava cultivation, but he said, “Within three years, IITA gave us cassava that is mealybug free. And that is what has enabled Nigeria to remain as the largest cassava producer in the world.”
He commended IITA for continuing to fulfill the mandate of the founding fathers but noted that innovation is incomplete until the products of research have gotten into the hands of the farmer. “We must get whatever you produce out there to the farmers. And whatever it takes us to get your products to the farmers, I believe it’s worth it,” he said. He then added that “getting the products to the farmers is almost as important as getting the products ready because the product that is not in the hands of the farmers is a wasted product.”
In his welcome address, chief host and IITA Director General, Dr Nteranya Sanginga spoke about the leadership constraints in Africa, the resolution of which he believes will create a more effective foundation for the transformation of the continent. He said while we want to “talk about technical things at the conference, as an institution we have to remember that the social dimension of leadership is extremely important because in the end, it’s going to be about people and that will be key in how we will lead the transformation in agriculture.”
“We will have technology and knowledge but the way we lead our people and inspire those who are going to come in the future is going to be very important,” said Sanginga. He also said that after celebrating previous achievements, we should have greater visions of what agriculture will look like in the future.
In a congratulatory message to the institute, Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture of the African Union Commission, Her Excellency Josefa L.C. Sacko, spoke highly of IITA’s many contributions to the progress of African agriculture over the last 50 years. A number of areas of future collaboration between IITA and AU Commission are being identified including a welcome initiative by IITA to work with two AU Commission departments to establish a collective framework that will ensure alignment of the priority program of IITA to those of the AU Commission especially to support the implementation of the Malabo declaration and aim at transforming African agriculture through increased productivity, youth employment, and strengthening resilience of Africa’s production system.
Technical sessions at the conference included talks by some leading scientists and touched on different challenges facing food availability such as burgeoning population growth and climate change. The presentations showcased a wide range of solutions including removing constraints to sustainable farming, building sustainable food systems, and the rise of the processing sector in African agriculture. It was noted that with well managed implementation of research findings, Africa can experience economic recovery, youth empowerment, and both urban and rural transformation.
After making inroads in agricultural research over the past 50 years, IITA and its partners are intent on transforming African agriculture and achieving food and nutrition security in the next 50 years.