The Root Of The Science Podcast

EP 129: Enock Chikava, Strategies for a Climate Resilient Future in Agriculture

December 04, 2023 Anne Chisa Season 4 Episode 129
The Root Of The Science Podcast
EP 129: Enock Chikava, Strategies for a Climate Resilient Future in Agriculture
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Imagine a future where global agricultural challenges are successfully conquered, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. 
Enoch Chikava, Interim Director of Agriculture Development at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, joins us on this episode to share the foundation's strategies and partnerships designed to accelerate agricultural development and climate resilience. 
Enock is an expert in agricultural development from Zimbabwe. He explains the advancements being made, including the cultivation of adaptable crops such as millet and cassava, scaling up these innovations to benefit smallholder farmers and more.

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Anne Chisa:

The Root of the Science podcast with your girl, Anne with an E. Hello everyone and welcome back to another episode of the Root of the Science podcast with your girl, Anne with an E. If you are new here, welcome. It's such a pleasure to have you listening to the show. A usual reminder to follow us on social media on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, as well as you can follow on YouTube. Remember that we are available to be listened on Spotify and on Apple podcasts, as well as Google and wherever else you listen to your podcast. Let's get into today's show. In today's episode, we are hosting Enoch Chikava, the Interim Director of Agriculture Development at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He has extensive experience in agriculture development. Enoch has been involved in shaping strategies to address pressing challenges in global agriculture. His leadership focuses on innovative solutions, sustainability, resilience, particularly in the context of climate change. Join in as we engage in this conversation about the Foundation's initiatives, the impact of ongoing climate patterns and the future for agriculture development in Africa. Let's go. Good morning, enoch. Welcome to the show.

Enock Chikava:

Thank you, good to be on the show.

Anne Chisa:

Pleasure to have you so, Enoch. You are the lead agriculture development at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In fact, you are the interim director. So what exactly does this role entail?

Enock Chikava:

So our main role is to find solutions for smallholder farmers, because they constitute the majority of the people in South Africa and South Asia and if we are going to be meeting up with the SDG goals of ending hunger, on nutrition and equality, agricultural development becomes very important. So agriculture development is a proven platform of lifting people out of poverty at a large scale. We have seen several waves of that in the different world areas in Asia, europe and the US in the past night to 100 years. We believe it's an opportunity for Africa to do so and that's the way that we do, making sure that we come up with innovations in crops, livestock and digital that will benefit the smallholder farmers who produce 80% of all the food consumed on the continent.

Anne Chisa:

Fantastic, that's pretty amazing. So the foundation is involved with many partners and in a press release that was out yesterday, the Gates Foundation announced that a partnership with the United Arab Emirates to accelerate climate action and strengthen food systems through investment of agricultural innovation. So I wanted to ask you how does this commitment made by the foundation and the new partner contribute to building resilience among smallholder farmers, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa?

Enock Chikava:

No, thanks very much. The announcement made yesterday has two parts to it. Firstly, it is to increase funding through a global research partnership called the CGIAR, which has been running for almost 60 years, present in 70 countries in the global south, and they develop crops, livestock and a lot of the farming practices, including agronomy, and particularly those crops that are used as food on the African continent, like a cyber millet, a sorghum, sweet potato. So they are the right organization that can really help develop innovations for Africa. So that's the first part. So it is to make sure it is adequately funded, because today it is severely underfunded compared to the role they play, particularly in the global south. The second one it is to be identifying some innovations that are already proven in the public sector, in the private sector as well, and come up with a partnership that includes the government, civil society, private sector, in order to quicken the scaling of those innovations, because we have a lot of innovations which are still in the lab or haven't seen the light of the day in farmers fields. So the second part is to look at how we can accelerate the scaling of those proven innovations through multiple partnerships from governments and private sector across the board. So those two. That's why we have this partnership with the UAE. A $200 million dollar announced, which is a matching 50-50. So this is great news because maybe this is the UAE's first major investment in building resilience, particularly in Africa and South Asia.

Anne Chisa:

That's so exciting and I'd like to focus more on these innovations that you've spoken about. So would you have examples on some of the innovative technologies or approaches that's currently being funded and might be available for small-scale farmers and also, with this in particular, in the face of the changing climate patterns?

Enock Chikava:

Yes, I can put that into three buckets. Yes, bucket number one would be all the crops innovation. These are crops which are already adaptable to the environments in South Africa and South Asia. I don't know whether you've been following up here, but actually India did a very bold position, as they've been the takeover, the presidents of the G20. They declared the year of millet and because the millet is adaptable in Asia and Africa, and because it's not one of the main global value chains that we often hear about, we need to focus on those crops which are indigenous, particularly to Africa and South Asia. So those crops like millet, which I mentioned already, crops like cassava. Cassava feeds 500 million people in Africa, but cassava has been considered as an orphan crop or as a minor crop. But how can something that feeds 500 million people be minor? It depends on who defines it. So, as a result of it being considered as a minor crop, it has not received any resources in terms of applying science, research and innovation for many, many years. But in the past 15 years, we funded, as the foundation, together with other partners, a project called the Next Generation Cassava and that is used the 21st century tools for research, the genomic selection, to really come up with those traits which are important, particularly for women. Right now, as we speak, after 15 years, we have a new generation of cassava varieties that are yielding more than 100% compared to the current varieties. So all this the science has been done. We now need to take them to scale. We can also even pick up here like sweet potato. There's a sweet potato coming out of some of the CG work. The CIP is actually the center that does that. So if come up with no sweet potato varieties that have been fortified with vitamin A to address some of the silent hunger due to the shortages of micronutrients so there is a long list you can go to Sorghum as well as you can go to Yang in West Africa. So all these innovations in the crops are available today. They need to go to scale and we need resources and government need to be making sure that their policies are aligning and, as the government borrow sovereign loans from the Africa Development Bank and implement their own combat, they can now access these innovations and then take them to scale In the livestock. That is bucket number two. In the livestock sector, we have innovations in poultry or chicken. We now have the new chicken varieties is what we call the dual purpose poultry, which is the chicken that can give you eggs and it can give you. It will also give you meat. But a lot of the indigenous chickens. They will give you, for example, about 40 eggs in 18 months, but they're already hardy, they are already tolerant to heat, they can scavenge for food and they can also doge a lot of their predators and so on. So you take the adaptation that already exists and then improve their productivity through some breeding and crossing. So the dual purpose poultry. We now have new breeds that are producing five times more eggs, so from 40 eggs to almost 150 eggs to 200 eggs in the same period, which is the 18 months, and they gain double the weight in half the time, which means you even get more meat and get more eggs. And, as you know, a lot of the women they raise chickens. So it is multiple goals you are increasing the income of the smallholder farmers, you are improving the nutrition and you're also imparting women. So we also have, within the livestock sector, some of the dairy then coming up with more heat-tolerant dairy cows. Even as the temperature increases they will become adaptable. So, with an array of livestock breeds that are being improved, you can also get into the small roominess like the goats. So there's a lot already within the livestock sector. The livestock bucket is around. The digital work, like understanding your soil information, is very, very important under conditions of climate change. So we have developed what we call the digital soil mapping capabilities, where you can get up to 20 characteristics of your soil and you are going to be making more informed decisions about what would be the right crops to grow. When you understand your soil moisture, you know also what are the nutrients that are not in the soil, so that you can apply your fertilizer more appropriately. So the soil information and understanding the soil health is very, very important. Where is the digital innovation for that? Also, within the digital space, there is the early warning system. You know early warning, I know that it won't rain in the next week. I can make decisions today If I know that there's going to be a rest or another disease coming within three days or so. It prepares farmers for action. So early warning for early action. So all these needed tools which are enabled digitally. So, again, just to summarize, we have crops, livestock and digital innovations that are ready to go.

Anne Chisa:

This is absolutely brilliant, enoch, but I have a question, further question. So this work is obviously really important and it's work that the foundation and partners have been working on, but how? I want us to touch on equitable access. How does a farmer let's say, somewhere in Malawi, he's been growing maize for a very long time because that's what's commercially available how does he know that there's we are in the year of 2023, he's declared millet and maybe this is something that it's indigenous and he can it's he should be growing it. How does he know that these new crops exist? How does he know that there's the digital work that's currently being done? How do we make sure that this gets to the people who need this?

Enock Chikava:

So there's various delivery mechanisms, because a lot of these innovations, they are global public goods, which means that any country can access it Malawi can access it, zambia can access it in another country. But you need to also have the kind of systems that allow the flow of these innovations from where they are developed to lend in your own country. So that's why, in the partnership, we need to work with the governments and we call it hand-lead inclusive agricultural transformation. We cannot care about Malawian farmers more than the Malawian government, so they have to come up with the policies that will allow the registration of these innovations into their own country, which means their regulatory environment should be allowing, and there's a lot of countries doing that already. And then, within the country, you need to have your seed system that allow the flow of this innovation, they say from breeder seed to certified seed and reaching to the farmer. So that will work. And we have an organization on the African continent called Agra. I'm sure you've heard about Agra.

Anne Chisa:

Yes.

Enock Chikava:

They're operating in more than 15 countries now and they've been doing that work in terms of policy alignment, making sure that the government can prioritize. Let's say, for Malawi, we are declaring that maybe Mili to be the best evolution for them. That should appear in the Malawian national agriculture investment plan. And then you come up with your policy change. Maybe the Malawian will be doing livestock, maybe they do millet, maybe they do cassava. That should be part of the national agriculture investment plan for that country. And then, once you've prioritize that, the other way also of informing the farmers is around, you know, coming up with more extension system that are effective and I think you understand that on the continent, you know we don't have very strong investments around the extension to farmer ratio. And I can give you a few examples here that the current extension system is broken. But we need no innovations and I think we have already done by the bit in terms of what called digital extension. So if we just go to some of the deficiencies we have which are being solved by the new innovations, the extension officer to farmer ratio in Malawi is one extension officer is responsible for 3,000 farmers. Go to Kenya one extension officer almost 5,000 farmers. Nigeria is the worst one One extension officer 10,000 farmers. So there's no way one extension officer can reach 3,000 farmers in any season, even if the information is available. So we now are working on the digital extension system and there are more those that are working while working with an organization called the digital green, originally in India, and then they come up with some of the videos and then they train also a cadre of other non extension officers. But digital can simplify information and at times you can have a channel for farmers that they have their mobile phones, they can get, they can get SMS. Start to be telling them you know, in your own region, maybe mail it will be the right commodity, the prices are right. So we are focusing on digital extension as a major form of reaching out to the farmers, which is also another new innovation in that pipeline that I talked about. So it's a combination of working with the governments, working with the private sector, but also bringing in new innovations like digital that can reach farmers at scale. In some countries they use farmer groups. You know the women come together and then they are learning about new practices as a group. So the different methods of making sure that we disseminate the information about these innovations to those who need them the most.

Anne Chisa:

So, given this idea of collaboration between governments and NGOs and private sector, in your experience so far, how do you assess the current state of collaboration in addressing these agriculture challenges? And I think it's more important now in the context of the change in climate that we're seeing.

Enock Chikava:

Well. So there are different levels of doing that. I think the COP is already an example of where, you know, at global level, we need to recognize the importance of that collaboration At least you know this announcement that we made here working with the UAE and working with the University of Chicago and working with many other you know organizations. So, at global level, we need to show that we can get better results when we collaborate. And then you get to the connoisseur level. Take, for example, within the Africa Union. You know, this past year the Africa Union has been focusing on how they can ensure food security on the continent. I'm sure you know that. For the past, you know maybe 10 to 15 years, they've been operating under their own strategy they call the cadet, and that cadet is coming to an end in 2025. And within the cadet, they have agreed on each country to contribute at least 10 percent of their budget towards agriculture because of the centrality of agriculture with the most robust economies. Some countries have done well, I don't know. Every four countries they've made that 10 percent. Many other countries, maybe 50 countries, have not. So it is very, very at various level. But you are beginning to see also, the Africa Union maybe creating what they call a food basket, recognizing that you can be having, say, similar commodities across the whole candidate, across the whole continent. So all that, the one food basket which has many collaborators, is the rice import substitution in West Africa, within the accost, 16 countries coming together and coming up with a very bold vision of by 2030, they need to be producing more than 6 million tons to be replacing what they are importing from Asia today. And they are all working across the whole value chain, from the seed to the processing and to the distribution of that rice. In that collaborative project, you have the World Bank, you have the UK government, Islamic Development Bank, the African Development Bank and we, as the foundation, we are also part of that. So we are seeing all these collaborations global level, as I said, co-denial level, but also it goes all the way down at the candle level. The candle level, like I said before, it must be led by the government and there are countries that are doing well. Ethiopia is doing very well, guangdong is doing well. Ghana is also making major strides in terms of coming with a clear decision, of plans where collaboration can all grow around.

Anne Chisa:

Fantastic. Thank you so much. This has been really informative and it's been great to hear about some of the work that the foundation and partners are doing in and around this issue of agriculture for farmers. Thank you so much for your time and to everybody that's listening. Thank you so much for listening into another episode of the Root of the Science podcast with your girl and with Anne with an E. Until next time, goodbye.

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Collaboration in Agricultural Innovation and Development