Joyce MulilaMitti: Better coordination required from agriculture organizations

Dr Joyce MililaMitti is a plant breeder by training; she obtained her PhD from the Southern Illinois University in Carbondale in the USA. She has more than 20 years of experience working initially as a food legume breeder/team leader for the Food Legume Research Team for the Zambia National Agricultural Research System (NARES) and later also as a freelance consultant for several development agencies with a focus on agricultural development and particularly establishing community-based seed systems for smallholder farmers. Before joining FAO in 2007 she worked at senior management level in international NGOs. She is the Crops Officer for FAO at the Regional Office for Africa in Accra, Ghana.

Please describe your job.
My responsibilities are to provide technical support to countries in the region for increased crop production and enhanced food security. The primary objective is to contribute to the capacity development of the national systems to provide adequate technical support towards the sustainable intensification of crop production.

What are your major tasks and thrusts for the African Region (RAF)?
The major tasks cover aspects of crop production and protection and broadly encompass capacity development, technical backstopping support, coordination of regional policy development, and the harmonization of crop-related interventions. These are the key thrusts.

• Strengthening capacities for scaling up the adoption of Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) for improved crop production and diversification. The GAPs include conservation agriculture, integrated pest and production management, integrated weed management, integrated plant nutrient system, and innovative farmer-led extension approaches.
• Improving the capacities of the National Plant Protection Organizations to implement the International Plant Protection Convention and manage transboundary pests and diseases for increased food security and safe trade in crops and crop products.
• Providing technical support for the reduction of risks associated with pesticide use as a way of minimizing damage to the environment and harm to human health while sustaining reasonable crop productivity by reducing losses due to pests.
• Supporting enhanced knowledge and information exchange for the use and management of Plant Genetic Resources for Agriculture and improved seed system delivery.

What are the major challenges in agricultural development in Africa?
They include the low levels of productivity that most smallholder farmers realize from their farming practices. The factors causing this situation are degraded soils and the general poor soil fertility, unreliable and erratic rainfall characterized by droughts and floods, the high prevalence of pests and diseases, and so on.

Challenges also include those related to poor cropping practices and in particular to the suboptimal use of inputs, such as the use of seeds of low quality (mostly on-farm saved grain as opposed to purchased certified seeds) and the significantly low rates of fertilizer use.

Other challenges are related to an unfavorable policy environment and a generally low investment in agriculture by the national governments, manifested by inadequate support for research, poor infrastructure, poor input and output markets, and inadequate capacities for extension service delivery at the farm level.

The problem of low investment continues to be a challenge even though the countries agreed to contribute 10% of national budgets to Agriculture under the Maputo Declaration. These challenges need concerted efforts and an improved information exchange to achieve better coordination and synergies from the various interventions implemented by the development agencies that support the agricultural sector by addressing these issues. However, the most important factor for the efforts to yield results is adequate political will from the governments to make things happen and especially to encourage public-private partnerships to adequately exploit the potential opportunities that a well developed agriculture sector can provide towards economic development.

What efforts are required to address biotic and abiotic threats in African agriculture?
What is required is more collaboration and better coordination among the different organizations that are involved in working on addressing the challenges so that there is more effective and efficient delivery of interventions and results to the national systems. For instance, the work of CGIAR through the CGIAR Research Programs should involve national partners more closely to achieve impact. This also requires that CGIAR works very closely with the regional economic communities to improve regional coordination and effective information exchange among the national programs.

How can countries overcome the challenges resulting from weak capacities?
This is a major challenge as adequate capacities are necessary for implementing the various programs that are meant to address the challenges highlighted. The ideal solution is for governments to increase their investment in the agricultural sector to address the capacity gaps. However, given that most countries are not able to provide adequately for the sector, the best strategy is to develop the capacities of farmers’ groups, and producers’ associations to provide support for fellow farmers so that there is enough social capacity at the farm level for the transfer of knowledge and skills. A conducive environment for the active participation of the private sector to contribute to providing more innovative extension support and improving access to markets is also the key to addressing weak capacities.

Who are FAO-RAF’s partners?
The key partners for RAF are the African Union and the relevant technical units and RECs (ECOWAS, SADC, EAC, COMESA, IGAD), the Regional Research Organizations (CORAF, ASARECA, CCARDESA), CGIAR centers, NGOs, and most of the various development agencies actively supporting agriculture. These include the relevant ministries that support agriculture programs in the countries (Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Health).

How do farmers and producers benefit from your office?
FAO’s support to farmers and producers largely involves normative work that is provided through policymakers and national structures. However, there is also direct involvement with producers and farmers through facilitating the implementation of projects/programs (e.g., convening training events, workshops, facilitating field days etc.).

How could IITA and FAO work together?
Stronger collaboration is required between IITA and FAO. Both organizations can add value to the common areas of each other’s work as they have different comparative advantages. FAO can benefit from the immense knowledge generated by R&D programs of IITA for enriching the technical quality of the support that FAO provides to the countries. IITA can also benefit from the increased visibility of their work provided to the wider and varying levels of actors that FAO has access to; particularly at the policy making level of governments.

What is your advice for IITA?
My advice is that IITA should continue to build on the good efforts already started of building alliances. The approach is effective, enhances linkages and collaboration, contributes to capacity development, and is a sure way of achieving lasting results.