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African countries, in the wake of independence, were faced with significant capacity constraints that had impeded agricultural development and sustainable food production - which was more severe in the particular case of semi-arid areas. As a result, frequent droughts and famine were common in the region with worse cases encountered during the 1970s.

In response to the recurrent droughts, the virtual lack of appropriate and economically feasible technologies to improve agricultural production in semi-arid agro-ecosystems and the food security crisis in 1970s, the Heads of African States and Government of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) established SAFGRAD in 1977 (based on Resolution 505 XXIX adopted by the Council of Ministers).

Such a political commitment to establish SAFGRAD was to be accorded with the commitment of donors particularly the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to embark on an agreement with OAU to build research and technology transfer capacities of 27 benefiting countries in Sub Saharan Africa. Through SAFGRAD, the USAID has been a key donor that financed agricultural research and capacity building at regional level that spanned for over 15 years.

The forerunner of SAFGRAD was a USAID project, JP26, which had earlier been initiated in 1969 and was based at the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) in Nigeria . This project was implemented in collaboration with the Organization of African Unity's Scientific, Technical and Research Commission (OAU/STRC). Its objective was to assist regional research efforts in maize, sorghum and millet, and by 1976 it was clear that this project had been successful.

SAFGRAD was expected to address weaknesses in the NARS. It is based on the sound rationale that investment in supporting NARS, and especially national food grain research scientists, would yield positive returns in terms not only of sustainable increases in food grain production but also of major improvement in the lifestyles of food grain farmers and their families.

The global objectives of the OAU/STRC-SAFGRAD had therefore, been to:

  • Improve the production and productivity of traditional farming systems with particular emphasis on food grains (i.e. maize, sorghum, millets, cowpea etc.)
  • Foster dynamic inter-African research cooperation at regional and sub regional levels.
  • Facilitate the dissemination and exchange of technical information and elite germplasm through regional trials, workshops, symposia,
  • Promote the transfer and adoption of technologies
  • Improve the research and extension capabilities of member countries
  • Build the resource base for productive agriculture through an integrated farming system.

SAFGRAD was conceptualized to mobilize scientific talents and resources of National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) and that of the Inter-national Agricultural Centres (IARCs) particularly IITA and ICRISAT through collaborative research programmes for the improvement of food grains ( i.e., sorghum, maize, -millet, cowpea, etc.) and the development of farming systems. Initially, regionally focussed research enabled the development of new generation of technologies utilized by NARS of member countries in the 1980s and 1990s. The collaboration with universities within and outside Africa enhanced research capacity building in participating countries.

In the mid- 1980s SAFGRAD modified its strategy to collaborative networking of crop commodities and farming systems. Networking as a regional strategy, enabled NARS to judiciously pool together their scientific resources to alleviate common food production constraints and environmental degradation, and to evolve indigenous scientific and research management leadership.

Research and development issues were addressed through workshops, continental level conferences, special seminars, which brought together national researchers, development agencies IARCs and universities to discuss common research priorities and agenda. The SAFGRAD mechanism enhanced sharing of technology and experiences among countries and IARCs, which substantially contributed to the introduction of modern scientific agriculture into traditional farming in Africa .



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