The Africa Research in Sustainable Intensification for the Next Generation (Africa RISING) Programme comprises three regional research-in-development projects supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as part of the US government’s Feed the Future initiative.
Inaugurated in late 2011 and currently in its second phase (since September 2016), the purpose of Africa RISING is to provide pathways out of hunger and poverty for smallholder farm families through sustainably intensified farming systems that sufficiently improve food, nutrition and income security, particularly for women and children, and conserve or enhance the natural resource base.
Africa RISING Site Coordinator in Tigray, Ethiopia, Mohammed Ibrahim, notes “this is the ‘new normal’ and we have to adapt.”
The immediate effect of the COVID-19 pandemic reduced the implementation speed of pre-planned project activities.
Franklin Avornyo of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), an Africa RISING implementing partner in Ghana, notes that the restrictions and lockdowns in Ghana caused delays as partners could no longer visit project sites.
“Firstly, it affected the quality of our deliverables. Secondly, it delayed processes in general because offices were closed and the national postal service, for example, was no longer efficient. Activities that we would hitherto accomplish within a month, now took between two and three months”, adds Avornyo.
Despite the setbacks, Africa RISING staff and partners found various ways to “keep things moving” and ensure that improved agricultural technologies still reached smallholder farmers.
From early March 2020, several Africa RISING staff and partners resorted to working from home due to COVID-19 measures enforced by the governments of the six countries where the Programme implements its activities. It became a policy adopted by the CGIAR centers leading Africa RISING- IITA, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
ILRI’s research is directed to improving food and nutrition security through increased production and access to animal-source foods; stimulating economic development and poverty reduction through enhanced livestock value chains and increased productivity; improving human health through improved access to animal-source foods and a reduction in the burden of zoonotic and food-borne diseases; and managing the adaptation of livestock systems to climate change and mitigating the impact of livestock on the environment.
On the other hand, IFPRI provides research-based policy solutions to sustainably reduce poverty and end hunger and malnutrition in developing countries. Established in 1975, IFPRI currently has more than 600 employees working in over 50 countries. It is a research center of CGIAR, a worldwide partnership engaged in agricultural research for development.
Many Africa RISING staff were tele-working full-time for the first time and became conversant with the online collaboration tools through a “learning by doing” approach. Despite the steep learning curve, most programme staff are now achieving excellence and near-normalcy using these tools.
“Staff in our field offices in Ethiopia have started to use Telegram for frequent research data sharing”, Ibrahim said, adding, “this sharing of data and information is key for us at this stage because we have just commenced activities linked to starter inputs distribution and planting. We provide mobile data allowances to facilitate our partners’ internet access.”
Francis Muthoni, IITA and Africa RISING GIS Specialist in Eastern and Southern Africa, now relies more on the use of satellites to conduct remote surveys and collect data.
Muthoni, a Kenyan, has joined IITA-Tanzania as a Postdoctoral Fellow– GIS specialist. He holds a BA degree in Geography from Moi University, Eldoret, Kenya (2003) and an MSc in Geo-Information and Earth Observation in Environmental Modelling and Management (2010).
He received his PhD in Spatial Ecology from the Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC) University of Twente, Netherlands (2014). Before this appointment, Francis was a Geographical Information Systems (GIS) consultant for the GFA Consulting Group on an IGAD project (April to June 2015). Previously he was a GIS Officer at the University of Cambridge Laikipia Elephant Project (2007 to 2008).
“Those of us who work with remote sensing data have an advantage because satellites are still collecting data despite the pandemic. Because of this, my work can continue. I am implementing some of the activities as planned, unlike colleagues whose sole source of data is from the field”, notes Muthoni.
“But after analyzing the data I have collected, I need to work with my colleagues in the field to validate it. At that point, I anticipate that I will have challenges, but I am now working on a plan to reschedule some of those kinds of activities”, he said.
Speaking at a planning meeting for Ghana partners on June 24-25, the Africa RISING West Africa Project Chief Scientist, Fred Kizito, urged partners who could no longer implement field activities/surveys due to COVID-19 restrictions to focus on data analysis and writing publications.
Programme staff and partners in various countries and locations shared this view as they now had more time on their hands due to limited travel.
Africa RISING Project Coordinator in Mali, Brihanu Zemadim, reiterated this, saying he expects more project publications in 2020 and the coming year.