On May 9, during the Aim for Climate Summit in Washington, D.C., the State Department Office for Global Food Security organized a breakout session entitled, A Vision for Adapted Crops and Soils (VACS) in Africa.
The moderator, CGIAR System Board Chair, Professor Lindiwe Majele Sibanda opened the event emphasizing the need for both climate-adapted, nutritious crops and healthy soils to achieve a food-secure future. She called agriculture both a major contributor to climate change and deeply affected by it, as seen through the dire impacts of climate change on crop yields and planting and harvesting cycles.
The first panelist, Dr. Cary Fowler, Special Envoy for Global Food Security at the U.S. Department of State, noted that food security depends on addressing the fundamental aspects of having fertile soils and adapted crops – adapted to both climate change and to market conditions. Dr. Fowler highlighted that around the world – especially in Africa – countries are mining their soils without replenishing the nutrients, and as a result, crops are less nutritious and food systems are less resilient.
Dr. Fowler outlined the Vision for Adaptive Crops and Soils as an effort to highlight this problem and to generate sustained commitment through its partnerships with the African Union and the Food and Agriculture Organization.
The second panelist, Her Excellency Josefa Sacko, the Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture of the African Union Commission, discussed the role VACS will play in feeding African populations, noting the principles in VACS Initiative are consistent with the African Common Position on Food Systems, which came out of the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit.
She called for strong partnership with African research institutions, including the National Agricultural Research Institution (NARS), CGIAR centers in Africa, and universities, and she stressed the importance of donors and the private sector to mobilize financial resources for VACS-related research in Africa.
The third panelist, Dr. Cynthia Rosenzweig from AgMIP and the Columbia Climate School gave a presentation on modeling traditional and indigenous crops in Africa including their biophysical, nutrition, economic, and social factors.
Dr. Rosenzweig discussed temperature and precipitation data trends and emphasized collaboration by plant breeders, nutrition specialists, and climate experts and their integration with tools and technologies to address the VACS effort.
The fourth panelist, Lisa Safarian, President and COO of Pivot Bio discussed the advantages of microbial nitrogen as a potential source of fertilizer to more sustainably improve soil health and reduce environmental impact.
She discussed field trials in Kenya and Pivot Bio’s next steps to grow partnerships and help put in large scale field trials with the smallholder farmers, paving a path to provide millions of farmers in Kenya with a sustainable source of nitrogen..
The fifth panelist, Dr. Robert Reiter, the head of Research and Development in Crop Science at Bayer, noted the value of multisectoral collaboration and partnership to solve the challenges farmers face in Africa. He highlighted the innovation, expertise, and technology that Bayer brings to solving challenges for boost agricultural capabilities of indigenous crops. Dr. Reiter also called for the agriculture community to accelerate its approach to solving soil health and noted that can be driven by innovation.
The session concluded with expressions of support from the audience and continued commitment from the panelists as well as a call to action for additional public and private sector partnerships and collaboration. The next step in VACS is a Technical Workshop in Rome scheduled for May 18-19 hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, African Union, and State Department with generous support from the Rockefeller Foundation. The workshop will convene global stakeholders to identify an initial list of the most important and nutritious crops in Africa.