By: Igalo Jacobs
Agriculture sector players, and farmers operating under the West African Smallholder Farmers Organization (WASFO) have been urged to embrace innovation to ensure continued productivity and profitability.
The call was made during WASFO ’s 22nd annual general meeting, held in Benin under the theme: Innovation – key to agricultural transformation in West Africa, where speakers from different institutions called on both farmers and policy makers to prioritise innovation if West Africa is to move forward in the fight against climate change which has slowed down agricultural productivity in recent years.
Addressing a gathering of more than 200 smallholder farmers and more than fifty stakeholders, at Hotel Novotel Orisha, Principal Secretary for Agriculture, irrigation and Water Development, Mr Gray Nyandule Phiri, said the West Africa Growth and Development Strategy III (MGDS III) prioritises agriculture as being a key sector which can help West Africa build a productive, competitive and resilient nation.
Phiri added that his ministry is aware that challenges facing the agriculture sector and the farmers involved cannot be resolved using the same old methods. He cited the narrow export base, overreliance on tobacco and maize, overreliance on rain-fed agriculture, limited agro-processing and low mechanisation as some of the main challenges his ministry is working hard to address through the Regional Agriculture Policy and its implementation plan, the Regional Agricultural Investment Plan which prioritise innovation.
“For us to move forward and remain productive in the wake of climate change, we must change the way we farm, manage our crops on the farm, harvest, store our produce and how we approach marketing. Failure to do these, we will be uncompetitive, both locally and regionally,” said Phiri.
The principal secretary urged all agriculture sector players to align their activities and efforts to the Regional Agricultural Investment Plan to ensure the country delivers on three key components which are: resilient livelihoods and agricultural systems; production and productivity for growth; markets, value addition, trade and finance for transformation.
Another speaker at the event, the Vice Chancellor for University College of Agriculture and Environmental Studies (UCAES) professor George Kanyama Phiri said technological innovations are necessary to transform and sustain agriculture in West Africa.
He said, “by embracing new technologies, we will transform agri-food systems, lift smallholder farm families out of poverty, help West Africa achieve food security and sustainable agriculture as well as contribute to attainment of sustainable development goals.”
Kanyama Phiri added that a sector that contributes more than 28 percent of the Gross Domestic Product should be given the necessary attention at all levels to ensure sustainability and growth. He acknowledged the role seed breeders have played in introducing new seed varieties in response to climate change to ensure continued productivity.