Grants towards six agriculture research centres in Africa

The World Bank and the Inter-University Council of East Africa (IUCEA) have signed a grant agreement of US$10 million as part of additional financing towards agriculture research for the Eastern and Southern Africa Higher Education Centres of Excellence project (ACE II AF).

The additional financing will go towards centres of excellence in the Southern African countries of Malawi and Mozambique and is meant to strengthen agriculture research higher education and research in the region – and ultimately contribute to food security.

Specifically, the focus will be on knowledge gaps related to rural innovation and agriculture extension, agribusiness and entrepreneurship, agri-food systems and nutrition, agriculture policy analysis, statistical analysis, foresight and data management, agriculture risk management and climate change proofing.

The US$10 million grant is part of a total of US$70 million approved in June by the bank’s board of directors to strengthen the six agricultural research-focused centres of excellence – five in Malawi and one in Mozambique.

The ACE II AF is proposed to scale up the existing Africa Centres of Excellence model “to further build the region’s capacity in providing high-quality training and applied research in the field of agriculture,” the IUCEA said in a statement issued last week.

Malawi and Mozambique will each receive US$30 million and the additional US$10 million will be going to the IUCEA in the form of International Development Assistance grant funding to help the council to operate as the Regional Facilitation Unit for the project.

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As such, it will support capacity-building activities as well as coordination and facilitation of the monitoring and evaluation systems, Dr Jonathan Mbwambo, the regional coordinator of ACE II, said

More importantly, ACE II AF, which will run up to 2025 – two years beyond December 2023 when the parent ACEII winds up – will build “institutional capacity to conduct high-quality applied research, relevant to addressing challenges within the agriculture research sector facing the region”.

In particular, research-related measurable results will include partnerships for collaboration in applied research, and training to promote quality of training and research.

“There will also be [the] production of peer-reviewed journal papers or conference papers to promote the quantity of high-quality agriculture research, and faculty and student exchanges to promote regional research and teaching collaborations for better-quality agriculture higher education,” said Mbwambo.

What will the centres focus on?

In Mozambique, the Centre of Excellence for Food Agricultural Policy and Programmes will be set up at Eduardo Mondlane University, with a focus on agri-food systems and nutrition, agri-risk management and climate proofing, and on policy analysis.

Malawi’s new ACE AFs will include the Agricultural Policy Regional Centre of Excellence at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) with a focus on food systems and nutrition, statistical analysis, foresight and data management and policy analysis.

The same university will set up a hub dedicated to agribusiness research and entrepreneurship, and on rural innovations and agricultural extension, to be known as Centre of Excellence in Transformative Agriculture Commercialization and Entrepreneurship, or TACE.

The Aquaculture and Fisheries Centre of Excellence (AquaFish) which LUANAR already hosts under the parent ACE II, will continue its focus on capacity-building in sustainable integrated and synergistic fish-crop-livestock production models at community, academic and industry level, among others.

The University of Malawi will host the Centre for Resilient Agri-food Systems that will focus on food systems and nutrition, risk management and climate-proofing, and on statistical analysis, foresight and data management.

The fifth hub, the African Centre of Excellence in Underutilised and Neglected Biodiversity will be hosted at Mzuzu University, Malawi, and will commit to conducting research and training on agribusiness and entrepreneurship, food systems and nutrition, agri-risk management and climate-proofing, and rural innovations and agricultural extension.

“The US$30 million for Malawi will be distributed almost equally, with each centre receiving close to US$6 million. In Mozambique, the US$30 million will be spent to establish the new centre and support capacity-building interventions in research and training institutions specialising in agriculture throughout the country,” said Mbwambo.

Linking research and policy formulation

Funding and performance agreements between the ministries of finance and the ministries or the agencies in charge of higher education on behalf of the two governments, and the relevant universities are expected to be signed later, when the beneficiary institutions will be represented by their heads.

Said Mbwambo: “At the national level, National Steering Committees (NSCs) in Malawi and Mozambique will continue to provide support in implementation to the ACEs in their respective countries.

“The NSCs will have representation from ministries of agriculture and of higher education to strengthen linkages with policy-making in the agriculture research sector in the two countries.”

The ACE II initiative was launched in 2014 with 24 centres situated in eight countries across Eastern and Southern Africa regions and with targets including the publication of 1,500 journal articles and about 300 agriculture research collaborations.

While the project ends next year, many of the hubs have come up with sustainability plans.

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