For its creative work in generating solutions on and off the farm, innovative solutions that have improved the lives of millions in the face of climate change, and rampaging crop pests and disease, the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) has emerged winner of the 2018 African Food Prize.
IITA is said to be the first institution to receive the distinguished Africa Food Prize as announced at the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) in Kigali, Rwanda.
The independent Africa Food Prize Committee, chaired by Olusegun Obasanjo, former President of Nigeria, selected IITA for its deep commitment over many decades to producing a steady stream of innovations that have boosted the nutrition and incomes of millions of people across Africa.
In recent years, that work also has included a critical focus on connecting crop science to creating employment for Africa’s youth, and ensuring African farmers can adapt to the stress of climate change and the growing threat for an array of crop pests and plant diseases.
“IITA stood out to us for its steadfast and inspiring commitment to a research agenda that aligns with both our African traditions as well as the evolving needs of African farmers and consumers for the latest advances food production,” said Obasanjo.
“From the cassava we’re still eating today, to the valuable and nutritious soybeans we now grow in our fields, to maize varieties that can withstand drought and deadly toxins – our diets and our agriculture businesses would be much poorer today without IITA’s leadership, and its willingness to forge powerful bonds with African farmers and African communities.”
Speaking as he received the Prize on behalf of his institution, Dr. Nteranya Sanginga, IITA’s Director General, stated his belief that a great deal of IITA’s success rests on its ability to develop relationships and collaborations that allow the fruits of its research to be scaled up and made available to millions of farmers.
“I’m extremely honoured to be receiving this prize on behalf of IITA and proud to be part of a group of researchers dedicated to building lasting and relevant solutions for the continent,” said Sanginga.
“But it would be remiss of me if I didn’t acknowledge the important role of our various partners, from other research centers to governments to the private sector, without whom our research might never have seen the light of day.”
Responding to today’s realities
In addition to its research work, the Africa Food Prize selection committee also cited the institute’s role in moving from being a developer to becoming the producer and distributer of Aflasafe – a product that can remove 80 to 99 percent of a deadly, cancer-causing fungus called aflatoxin that contaminates maize and groundnuts.
In order to prove there was a market for the product, IITA established a “Business Incubation Platform (BIP)” and manufactured and sold Aflasafe itself. The product was a hit with farmers, who found the savings generated by Aflasafe were many times more than the product cost. IITA eventually handed off production to a private sector partner and there are now manufacturing plants for Aflasafe in Nigeria and Kenya.
Congratulating IITA on this recognition, Svein Tore Holsether, President and Chief Executive Officer of Yara International, noted that “since its inception in 2005, the Yara Prize – now the Africa Food Prize – has honoured people and organisations who are strong voices in the African agriculture sector. Now, African agriculture is at a defining moment.”
“To achieve real transformation, we need to mobilise across sectors, and research organisations like IITA will play a crucial role, providing valuable science, vital in making sure we can produce enough food, which is also nutritious and environmentally friendly,” Holsether, added.
IITA was also praised for understanding and acting on the potential of agriculture to become a source of employment for young people on a continent that is grappling with a significant youth employment challenge. Under Dr. Sanginga’s leadership, IITA began a Youth Agripreneurs Programme in 2012 to help young Africans create profitable agribusinesses.
The programme has since been adopted by the African Development Bank as a model for its ENABLE Youth initiative. AfDB has tapped IITA to lead the efforts, which has ambitions to reach 800,000 young people in at least 20 African countries.
A model of superb African leadership and management
As the first African Director General to lead the organisation, Dr. Sanginga was recognised by the Prize committee as a powerful force behind many of the organisation’s impressive achievements – and for its imaginative new strategic direction that has taken it into areas like artificial intelligence and business development.
He also was praised for decisively extending IITA’s reach across the continent. When he was appointed in 2012, IITA’s physical presence in Africa was limited to its headquarters in Nigeria.
Today, it has 18 country offices and regional hubs in East, Central and Southern Africa – each with its own state of the art research facilities and stations.
“We want African governments and institutions to feel the presence of IITA and know that we are invested in the long-term future of the continent,” said Sanginga.
“For me, it was important to have more tangible connections with the communities we are serving and while I am a big fan of virtual collaborations, Africans still place a lot of value in face to face exchanges.”
In addition to Dr. Sanginga, also recognised by the committee were hundreds high-performing experts that IITA has recruited, trained and developed over the years, many of them going on to become pre-eminent leaders on the continent and champions for agriculture.
They include: Dr. Akin Adesina, President of the African Development Bank; Dr. Kanayo Nwanze, former Head of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and 2016 winner of the Africa Food Prize, as well as Dr. Agnes Kalibata, President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).
Courtesy: PAMACC News Agency