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Results Briefs July 28, 2020

Scaling agricultural research across borders – Results and lessons from the Agricultural Productivity Program for Southern Africa

There are many arguments for promoting cross-border exchange of ideas and expertise. For agricultural research and development, the nationally situated research systems are often confined by limited resources for operating beyond the national boundaries and actively sought partnership, kinship and mutual benefits that a cross-border exchange can provide. Recognizing this inherent limitation, the Agricultural Productivity Program for Southern Africa (APPSA) was launched in 2013. After completing six years of implementation the original Program in Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia closed in January 2020 while its second-generation projects in Angola and Lesotho are now taking off.

Key results from APPSA includes making available 301 improved varieties and technologies to farmers, comprising of 177 improved seed varieties and 124 technologies (43 agronomic and 81 post-harvest practices). Agro-dealers in APPSA countries found that the seed varieties promoted by the Program ranked among the top three products stocked due to farmers’ demand. Among these new varieties are two new rice seed varieties released in Malawi that are also being used by farmers in Mozambique and Zambia. These new rice varieties take 110 days to mature and can be grown for at least twice a year. Due to high demand, 72 percent of agro-dealers indicated they will continue stocking these varieties in the next five years. Across the program countries, 64 percent of farmers adopted the new seed varieties and 83 agronomic and post-harvest technologies were shared among the three participating countries.

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Arthur Rashid is a farmer at Lifuwu Rice Irrigation Scheme in Salima district and his life has changed since he started to plant the new rice varieties introduced by APPSA. “This [Mpheta rice seed] is a good variety. It has changed the lives of about 500 farmers within the scheme. Farmers can plant in all seasons throughout the year. We have stopped using seeds that took longer to mature and only depended on rains. We plant this seed through irrigation, and we are expected to harvest about seven tonnes per acre hectare and I must say we are making quite much from the sales of this variety.”

APPSA delivered its results through building partnerships with the private sector. An example of this partnership is the release of a Vitamin A fortified maize variety, which is being promoted by seven private seed companies in Malawi through multiplication and commercialization. Building partnerships with the CGIAR institutes such as HarvestPlus, has facilitated the popularization of early generation seed and promotion of orange maize. Zambia partnered with Sygenta Seed Company, Mpongwe Milling Company and Chilala Milling Company on seed multiplication. Strong partnerships have also been made with CGIAR who have provided germplasm and technical support to the research and development work. Partnership among regional researchers, across disciplines and borders has enriched delivery of research and strengthened collaboration.

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Aubrey Kabudula is one of the lead farmers in Malawi who benefitted from alternate furrow irrigation technology promoted by APPSA. “This type of irrigation has enabled us to grow different crops, three times a year,” said Kabudula. “Each time I grow maize, I have been able to harvest more than 1500kgs which I use to feed my family and sell some and get money for other household needs.”

To improve the capacity of national research facilities, APPSA established three Regional Centers of Leadership (RCoLs) – Maize in Malawi, Rice in Mozambique and Legumes in Zambia. In addition, two new RCoLs are being established in Angola for Cassava and Lesotho for Horticulture crop systems. These RCoLs are a key strategy for strengthen institutional capacities for high quality agricultural research as well as intra-regional exchange of knowledge and technologies.

The RCoLs have already contributed invaluable accomplishments. In Malawi and Mozambique, they have enhanced irrigation facilities and improved research buildings and laboratory services. In Zambia, the RCoL also improved the capacity of the soil chemistry laboratories to a mobile soil testing lab.

“Soil testing from the lab at central level has been benefitting a limited number of farmers but with the mobile soil testing lab, we are now able to run on spot analysis and expand the number of beneficiaries.” – Dr. Dickson N’guni, APPSA Coordinator in Zambia

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New RCOL building built at Chitedze Research Station in Malawi.

To further promote regional integration of agricultural research, APPSA worked to harmonize seed systems across its partner countries. Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia now have seed systems that are fully aligned with the SADC seed policy regulations as well as protocols for variety release, quality control and sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures. This will reduce the challenges related to certification of seeds and enable traders to more easily export and import seeds across the SADC region.

We are already seeing good fruits from the seed policy as regards to seed variety certification…In the past, it took us about three years to test a new variety before it is released but the new act will make sure that if a variety is tested and certified in two countries, any other country can start using the seed.” – said Nesimu Nyama, Secretary General, Seed Traders Association of Malawi

As APPSA continues to grow into two new countries – Angola and Lesotho – the lessons below from Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia can be applied to improve outcomes:

  1. Strong partnership to ensure success. Partnerships with private sector ensures that research priorities respond to demand, and hence likely to achieve sustainability. Additionally, strong engagement with CGIAR ensures good access to germplasm and technical pack stopping.
  2. Dissemination shapes adoption. Dissemination should not come later after technology generation but move together. It needs to be given equal priority as it can make the impact pathways much stronger.
  3. A sense of ownership from governments. Counterpart funding from governments should be reflected in research projects in order to better sustain research gains, forge ahead partnerships and maintain infrastructure facilities.
  4. Champions to carry the torch. Strong champions are a key to ensure regional coordination, and sharing of lessons learnt.