Scaling up biocontrol innovations in Africa

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Sch of Biology

Abstract

To ensure food security and sustainable livelihoods for a growing population, African agriculture needs to undergo transformational change to increase productivity and resilience to climate change and insect pests. The food system depends on production by millions of smallholder farmers and how to reach them and facilitate farm improvements is a generic challenge and a tremendous opportunity. Our cluster will explore how to improve on-farm innovation, focusing on the biocontrol of crop pests with safe, cheap and environmentally friendly improvements.
We will identify the country-dependent context for the adoption of biocontrol innovations, their compatibility with other farming practices, and the potential to advocate for agricultural policy developments in this sector. We will identify the lessons learned where these innovations have been applied successfully and the country-dependent issues that prevent the upscaling of these biocontrol innovations. We will examine ways in which the innovations can be supported in relation to local, district and national agricultural practices and policies.
The cluster will explore how to improve uptake of biocontrol practices by farmers and how to optimise knowledge exchange. The cluster will develop farmer-farmer networking and knowledge sharing, building on a successful model developed by NM-AIST, and explore how this can be enhanced using mobile phone technology. This foundation will help to define the research questions and programme of Stage 2.
Project goals will be achieved through a synthesis of the current state of knowledge and understanding about biocontrol approaches, their success and limitations and by actively developing communication tools for knowledge exchange. To do this we will engage with farmers and other key stakeholders to co-design appropriate mechanisms for sharing information and empowering farmers. Crucially, we will, from the outset, involve the intended "end-user" in the development of our programme so that new approaches can be co-designed with those benefiting from our research outcomes. Success in delivery of new crop protection solutions is critically dependent on active engagement of potential users throughout the programme. Our project will explore how to gather information from many remote smallholder farms and how to target new technologies to places where they are of maximum benefit.

Planned Impact

Who might benefit from this research?
Our project will benefit smallholder farmers who require crops that are resilient to attack from the invasive fall armyworm, other crop pests and which are also climate smart, both in Africa and globally. A major challenge in Africa is how to reach and engage with smallholder farmers. The approaches developed in the cluster will be generic and would apply to other interventions. Improvements to farm productivity will help to lift out of poverty the smallholder farmers who are responsible for the majority of food production in SSA. As current chemical pesticides are increasingly banned, increased interest and demand in the development and application of biopesticides would benefit SMEs across the African region where a number of companies are already involved in developing such solutions. This was highlighted by a biopesticide workshop in September 2019 organised by Wilson and NM-AIST in Tanzania, as part of their current GCRF project. We expect that outputs from the proposed activities will receive wider interest from the biopesticides research programme. We intend our research to lead to impact at the policy level and so agricultural policy makers will benefit from the new knowledge derived from the cluster, both in terms of lessons about upscaling innovations and improved ways to communicate information across farmer networks. We hope that development agencies will seek to adopt the innovative safe, cheap and environmentally friendly and promote their adoption as part of their development programmes across Africa and globally in a way that mirrors the implementation of climate smart agricultural innovations.

How might they benefit from this research?
The cluster will employ its extensive networks for communication, dissemination and knowledge exchange, which will lead to new opportunities for capacity building and policy developments. Farmers will benefit from better access to key inputs that will enable them to employ a wider range of options to reduce pest damage. As well as managing pests, there are potential synergisms of the biocontrol innovations with weed management, provision of fodder for livestock, improvement of soil fertility and climate smart innovations. Reduced crop losses to pests in the wider context of climate smart agriculture will enhance food security for farmer communities. Family income will also be more certain, allowing farmers to invest in their farms and support the education and health needs of families through improved nutrition. Biopesticides derived from microbial pathogens and botanical pesticides derived from plant products could provide a lower-cost, environment-friendly solution for the control of crop pests. A reduced dependency on chemical pesticides will lead to lower health risks and contamination of food and the environment with pesticide residues. Our project will help to realise the major opportunities arising from digital mobile networks for information sharing in order to facilitate ecological intensification of agriculture. Our GCRF cluster will allow us to develop exciting new approaches with big potential for improving dissemination to, and engagement with, smallholder agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa. The system created in the project would form a framework for many future opportunities for crop surveillance and targeting appropriate interventions to smallholder farmers. The project will have a clear role in increasing and sustaining yields of staple cereals. Poverty reduction begins with growth in the agricultural sector in SSA countries and such growth is achievable by reducing major constraints to productivity such as weeds and crop pests, which cause high levels of food insecurity, malnutrition and poverty, and are responsible for SSA cereal crop productivity being the lowest in the world.

Publications

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