Africa RISING East and Southern Africa (ESA) Project partners took part in the 10th project review and planning meeting on 14–16 September. And just like in the previous year, it was entirely virtual as the effects of COVID-19 restrictions on movements and travel persist. However, despite the two-year absence of physical meetings by partners, the passion and dedication to deliver on the project’s sustainable intensification agenda and farming systems research is still very much alive. This was unmistakable from the review presentations highlighting achievements of activities by the 40 partners drawn from 13 organizations who took part in the meeting.

Screen shot of Africa RISING partners during the virtual review and planning meeting.

In her opening remarks, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) East Africa Hub Director Leena Tripathi lauded the project partners for staying dedicated to the project despite the implementation setbacks enforced by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

‘I appreciate the hard work of the project team for making the project successful and the steering committee for its involvement and active participation,’ she said.

Tripathi also acknowledged the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID’s) support of the project. Noting that the project tackles crucial challenges affecting agricultural productivity in East and Southern Africa and has made excellent achievements to the livelihoods of smallholders within the region, she congratulated the project management team for a great job and promised that the strong support from the IITA management will continue even as the project moves to its final year. 

In a presentation highlighting project implementation and progress, Chief Scientist, Mateete Bekunda of IITA, noted that at least 300,000 farmers have been reached by Africa RISING project technologies. 

‘We have exceeded our phase II target of reaching 298,000 small-scale farming households. Additionally, a significant number of farmers have also been reached through radio programs, ICT platforms such as Mwanga (in Tanzania), roadshows, and spillovers,’ he said.

Review presentations made at the meeting covered the breadth of the project’s logframe which has five major outcomes (click each outcome to see the presentations by partners under each outcome): 

With this meeting likely to be the project’s final one after two five-year project implementation phases (2011–2016; 2016–2021) where various technologies were researched, validated, and scaled with farmers; partners at the meeting had a firm focus on shoring up the legacy of the work done by the project. For the coming year (2021/2022), partners presented plans of activities with a firm focus on data analysis, publishing their research in peer-reviewed journals, technology extension and generally tying up any loose ends of research work that was initiated in the previous years. 

Keeping an eye on a post-Africa RISING future; partners also had in-depth discussions about the prioritization of the kind of research interventions that may still need further work within the farming systems in East and Southern Africa. 

‘We did very comprehensive work on yields, profit, soil fertility, and adaptation, however, fewer studies have successfully researched on wild biodiversity, carbon storage, gender and adoption when assessing the performance of sustainable intensification (SI) technologies,’ noted Sieglinde Snapp while making an opening statement to tee-off partner reflections about the priorities. 

Underlining the importance of discussing the priorities and gaps for guiding future SI research, Bekunda noted that the prioritization of areas of SI gaps would form the basis for a future proposal as well as a useful document to inform the donor (USAID) on the priorities for sustainable intensification work in the region based on Africa RISING’s 10-year experience.

Thanking USAID for the strong support over the years, the Project Manager, Irmgard Hoeschle-Zeledon noted that the project was at a critical stage and securing its legacy was important. Hoeschle-Zeledon also thanked partners for contributing to the writing of a handbook highlighting some of the important technologies developed by the project over the years noting that this resource would now be easily available for sharing with development actors seeking livelihood enhancing technologies to introduce to smallholder farmers working in the region. 

‘We made progress in the production of the handbook and are in the final stages before its publication. This is great considering that we started the process of producing that handbook in 2017! We have been working with CABI to publish this book and anticipate that we will have it published by the end of the year,’ she said. 

‘Like all of you, my heart is still with the Africa RISING project, and I would like to thank you for active participation in this meeting, and discussing plans for the “last” year of Africa RISING despite the physical distance,’ added Zeledon.  

At the end of the meeting, partners agreed to a mid-October deadline for submitting their work plans for 2021/2022. Please click the link below to access the detailed meeting notes: https://africa-rising-wiki.net/ARESA2021

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