In the run up to the upcoming AgriBusiness Forum 2013, EMRC caught up with FARA’s new Executive Director, Dr. Yemi Akinbamijo, as FARA announced on 24 July 2013, “With a new Board and Executive Director, FARA as a Forum has the opportunity to start on a new slate…by working together, pooling together and delivering together”.
EMRC: Having worked for the African Union Commission as the head of the Agriculture and Food Security Division, what guiding principles will you bring with you to FARA?
Dr. Yemi Akinbamijo:
There are many sides to the Food Security and Agricultural research conundrum. It is ever so near but almost always a political mirage. Coming from an academic cum research background for twenty years coupled with the great opportunity to shed my lab coats to sit with those who ‘inspire and formulate’ the continents policy on Agriculture during the last eight years, I am advantaged to have the complementarity of both worlds. It is clear in my mind that science and policy orientation must complement each other. Building this synergy is sacrosanct if we will ever see a much-talked about food-secure Africa. I give the credit of evoking a new and broader MOU with the African Union Commission to my great predecessor –Prof Monty jones. This singular move has given FARA the much needed space to engage political orientations in Science and for science to advise political orientations on the continent. This is very new! We are committed to nurture this new development and to give it the scientific and political zest it deserves.
Secondly, there is the compelling need for us as FARA to demonstrate that we are all one body with nested organs – that is to say we will evoke the ‘organism philosophy’ rather than an organization philosophy. You alluded to my key mantra of working together, pulling (as well as pooling) together and ultimately delivering TOGETHER. This is a new way that we hope to do business. MLK said injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. I may as well say that failure to attain food insecurity in some parts of Africa, is a failure for everyone. Therefore, as the apex research coordination mechanism of the continent, it appertains to FARA under my watch to see that FARA plays its role within the context of the subsidiarity principle with excellence. We will bring on the rigor and discipline of science to the end that we achieve our goals in conjunction with our partners and members of the Forum.
Finally, the establishment of the African Science agenda in congruence with the SP 1 of the new FARA strategy will be pursued without compromise. The process will embrace the complementary continent-wide initiatives such as the intensAfrica, African Technology Platform etc as distilled from the outcomes of the 6th AASW.
EMRC: What are your main goals for FARA? How will you ensure that research is fully integrated in the Agri-Food value chain and research findings are used in a practical way to ensure growth and agricultural/ economic gains in Africa?
YA: Delivering on the Science agenda is a must – failure is really NOT an option in this case. The new initiative of the SAAA speaks to the visioning of the kind of science that Africa needs to advance its agriculture. I have always said that if we review agricultural history on a global basis, there is NO country that has broken the food insecurity barrier without giving due attention to Agricultural research and training. Attaining food security is only one half of the equation. Maintaining it is the other more critical side where Government policy on investing in Agricultural Research Financing as a public good becomes imperative. I would like to see a FARA that has an unmistaken relevance all across the agri-food value chain.
EMRC: What do you view as the current hurdles facing the sector and how must the continent as a whole approach these issues?
YA: Financing Agricultural Research institutions is a key challenge. Our political mindset is yet to fully assimilate the need to have dedicated statutory financial resources for supporting agricultural research and training. For many countries, financing agricultural research is the responsibility of development partners. That is why today the lion share of FARAs budget is still donor-driven. I would like to see a significant tilting of the balance in favour of higher in-continent resources to support agricultural research financing.
EMRC: Stimulating agricultural growth demands a local, national, regional and international approach. How will you combine these to achieve positive outputs for the continent as a whole?
YA: The ensemble of the forum is a continuum along the four levels you have just listed. Distinguishing ‘The Forum’ from ‘The Secretariat’ is very important. The different strata of The Forum are all well represented at the Continental, Regional, National and local levels with clear lines of actions, roles and responsibilities. It is equally well recognized that ‘a chain is as strong as its weakest link’. There is therefore no basis to sideline one stratum for the other. All are singularly and collectively important in delivering the mandate of the Forum. We all have our different terms of reference and strategic plans. These strategies and terms are ‘mutually reinforcing’. This means that we work in a complementary manner to attain one common goal. Here again, I cannot concur any less to the fact that we need to strengthen the unifying cords and spirit de corps at all levels.
EMRC: FARA has worked closely with EMRC for the AgriBusiness Forums. Why are such forums important for FARA to be associated with and how can such meetings help establish significant results for the Agri-Food sector?
YA: We will be as good as our markets and marketing capacities where food security and agribusiness is concerned. This is the raison d’etre for the establishment of PANAAC and initiatives like the UniBrain. It is important to recognize also that the agribusiness sector has its own peculiarities and attributes. These characteristics of the sector imply that there is need to have dedicated approach to agribusiness. FARA will embrace all initiatives in this direction and in collaboration with the SROs and our private sector operatives. Besides, the current thinking in the evolution of CAADP is largely built around private sector financing, innovative finance mechanisms and investments. This calls for a stronger stimulation of the private sector to be better placed to respond to these emerging scenarios.