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Systems thinking for southern Africa research program

With ICRISAT Zimbabwe staff during our planning meeting

With ICRISAT Zimbabwe staff during our planning meeting

I had a great day at Victoria Falls with ICRISAT scientists and staff today where we reviewed the country strategies and discussed how our Zimbabwe program can be adjusted to fit new priorities.

There were rich discussions with the scientists and staff on mapping their work to the value chain framework. Through that we identified the gaps in the framework with regards to systems research.

We have been doing a lot of work on innovation platforms to understand complex systems. Not just on commodities, but how those commodities might sit within a farming system, and the very integrated nature of agriculture in the drylands, especially in southern Africa.

By only focusing on crops we miss the bigger picture, which includes aspects like livestock.  Small ruminants like goats are an important resource that families sell for health and education, but also to invest back to agriculture. So now our team will be going back to see how they can accommodate systems research.

As livestock move from a pastoralist system to a farm managed commodity there will be a growing need for fodder and the importance of resources like bana grass is increasing, as is sorghum as a fodder?

So as we do our crop improvement we need to think about the systems, not just think about grain yields without understanding the market opportunity for the commodity.  What is the market we are breeding into – is it for flour or some other value added product, or is it for fodder.

For finger millet and pearl millet we really need to work on processing because to be able to transform the grain into a useful product requires a lot of work on behalf of women.  There is a need for mechanizing processing so that farmers can add value to their product, as right now they only get a very modest unit price.

After visiting and meeting with a wide range of players the take home message for me is that we have to create market opportunities for these commodities.  In the absence of a market the adoption and the transformation of the new technologies is very limited.

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