Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Research will go a long way in realising food production – Prof Meulenberg

An official of the Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (BUAN) has expressed hope, that the recommendations and resolutions that the 17th Biennial African Association for Biological Nitrogen Fixation (AABNF) made in the past week would influence the implementation of the National Development Plan (NDP) 11.

In an interview on the sides of the conference at GICC on Thursday, Professor Flora Pule-Meulenberg said: “We have previously tried to advise decision makers pertaining to sustainable agriculture and it seemed our voices were not clear. But now that the Minister officiated in our conference we hope he is going to give us a better hearing.”

She further emphasised that policy implementation should be guided by scientific research and not vice-versa. She recalled that following the same biennial gathering in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2012, the government there resolved to spend about two and half percent of its GDP on research. She said that resulted in Kenya producing bio-fertilisers from legume plants.   

The Gaborone conference themed: “Solutions for food security in Africa through sustainable soil fertility management of ecosystems under climate change,” brought together participants from USA, Germany, Netherlands, Argentina, Ghana, Nigeria, Mali, Morocco, Kenya, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, South Africa, with a view to increase food production in Africa. 

Meulenberg explained that scientific research does not have borders. It is done everywhere, in every soil and climatic condition. It is done to help adapt, not for any specific country.   Scientific researchers, she said, worked together to compare notes and share findings. They do this to avoid duplication of ideas. 

Asked whether indeed the presentations by various delegates advocated for the plowing of legume plants (beans/peas species) and whether this kind of farming could be defined as fertilising the soil naturally, she said: “It is a greener technology than using fertilisers. This is better for environmental conservation.”  

Meulenberg said they had sound working relationships with bodies such as the Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board (BAMB), AgriFeed and The Agri-Shop which promised a bright future. 

She bemoaned the fact that her university ended up having to single-handedly organise and foot the bill for the conference, save for support by the above mentioned companies; though the institution approached various companies well in advance.

“It is unfortunate because the private sector, especially agri-businesses have always complained that our input is limited in the sector. Research needs funding and it is disappointing for most companies not to show support at the time of need,” she said.

Officially opening the conference, Minister Patrick Ralotsia had stated that: “The conference’s topics that include plant-microbe interactions for plant growth promotion, soil fertility management, food security, biotechnological in biological nitrogen fixation, forest and range ecology; though scientific jargons, I believe they are important subjects that need to be researched on to make Africa a better place and to improve its environment and food security.”

A month ago while officially opening an organic fertiliser manufacturing factory at Mmamashia he had pointed out the fact that raising the levels of organic and non-organic nutrient application and good agricultural practices, including conservation agriculture, would not only improve soil fertility but also reduce environmental costs and offer interesting options for smallholder farming intensification. He also explained that the government advocates for collaboration of private sector and farmers in order to attain food security. 

Prior to that the Minister of Finance and Development Planning Kenneth Matambo said during a national symposium on sustainable finance that Sustainable Development Goals adopted in September 2015 would guide development for 15 years. 

These, he said, covered a wide spectrum of dimensions such as poverty, hunger, health, gender equality, energy, water, economy, income inequality, climate change and governance.

If their words are anything to go by, then research, one of tools with which to tackle climate change would have reasonable budget to execute during the NDP11.

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