We were, therefore, not surprised when this concern emerged again during a workshop held in Kenya this month (11-14 May) on Maize Lethal Necrosis (MLN) Disease Diagnostics and Management in Africa, where experts highlighted the crucial role that the private sector could play in tackling the challenges facing smallholder farmers in Africa.
At the workshop, we learned that MLN poses a major threat to achieving food security in Sub-Saharan Africa. Researchers noted that MLN has made negative impact in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda, with the potential to spread if not urgently managed.
“In managing MLN sustainably, research scientists, academic institutions the private sector, the civil society and smallholder farmers must all come together and jointly discuss the most effective solutions and then implement them in an organised manner.”
Gilbert Nakweya and Sam Otieno
In Kenya alone, it is estimated that the lethal disease has caused a loss of up to ten per cent of the national maize production, making the country lose US$50 million, according to Kenya-based Stephen Mugo, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center ( CIMMYT) Africa regional representative.
So how does stakeholder engagement with the private sector feature in managing MLN? In what areas can they involve the private sector even as they come on board? We sought to find out answers to these questions.
We now know that MLN screening laboratories have been set up across the continent and that researchers are making concerted efforts to sustain such initiatives. They believe that the private sector is pivotal in achieving sustainability.
The private sector can offer capacity building to researchers in the form of training, consultative and advisory services to farmers, and funding research and development initiatives addressing MLN. Capacity building was cited as the most crucial role for the private sector in managing MLN but getting the business perspectives and opportunities to persuade them to participate in MLN management initiatives has not been easy. Consequently, delegates called for the opening up of marketing opportunities for the private sector in order to attract them.
The workshop, convened by AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa),CIMMYT, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization, was attended by over 150 scientists, policymakers and private sector players from Sub-Saharan Africa.
We realised the importance of partnerships in managing agricultural production challenges such as MLN facing African farmers. Better coordination of all stakeholders, besides the private sector, is prudent for sustainable development.
In managing MLN sustainably, research scientists, academic institutions the private sector, the civil society and smallholder farmers must all come together and jointly discuss the most effective solutions and then implement them in an organised manner.
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.