In Africa today, 75-80% of the population live in rural areas. For 30 years, very little international aid has been given to those who live primarily from farming. Yet, Africans have continued to struggle to cultivate. They have taken the initiative on many occasions and have sometimes been successful. With the AIDA project, we want to survey and analyse the success stories. We are interested in both the successes and the failures, because it is important to know why some initiatives have not worked.
How will you proceed?
We are going to draw up a list of successes and failures and compile case studies. It is important for us to listen to rural communities and to be active and flexible. We will also identify primarily national scientists and students—agronomists, socio-economists and climate change specialists—in order to put together teams. The project should only last for two years. However, it will provide the basis for others. During the two years, a database of the various initiatives will be created so that applied research and development needs can be identified. We also need to ensure that the results are disseminated and used. In this way, we should be able to indicate how to make the initiatives more effective.
Why and how can the project achieve more today than previous ones? What makes it different?
It is a question of circumstance. Recently, there was tremendous media coverage of two famines in Niger (2005) and Kenya (2006), which had a real impact on people. Political leaders were challenged. We have been providing aid to Africa for 30 years. Yet today, the situation is perhaps even worse than it was in the 70s for Africans in dry zones. Parallel to that, the information available on climate change shows that the latter exacerbates the situation in fragile zones. Moreover, it is important to add the Millennium Development Goals, particularly that of halving poverty between now and 2015, the "alter" movements and the global social forums. Ideas are circulating, people are asking questions and politicians are reacting¡ at last. As a result, we have been able to develop a new partnership with East Africa in the form of a European project and an international conference. This was achieved in 10 months with a small, highly motivated team. I think it is a record for an initiative of this kind.
Have you started assessing the initiatives?
Yes, the conference meant that we have already been able to survey over 70 cases. We can now start to draw up an initial database. The initiatives are very varied, even within a relatively limited geographical area. They involve traditional techniques (which are sometimes ancestral), that have been improved by farmers who have received no aid.
Can you give us some examples?Zai is a technique used for the retention of water runoff which was long considered to be trivial. It consists of digging holes in the ground which are then filled with manure or compost. The process is very labour intensive when done by hand. However, when it is mechanized, as in the case of a province in Burkina Faso, the operation is seven times faster.
The development of cactus in Ethiopia is another example. Cactus is resistant to water shortages, high temperatures and low soil fertility. Cactus fruit was previously consumed by only the poorest people during periods of famine and drought. Today, it is grown as a crop and is available on the market.
How has the project been received?
People are very enthusiastic. The initial conference, which took place in Ghana from 22-24 January, brought together over 50 African scientists, political representatives and sponsors, namely, the European Union and the FAO. The national scientists were delighted. They have supported these "ancestral initiatives" for a long time. However, their value has only been demonstrated on rare occasions. The summaries from 80 participants were received in less than two months, an excellent achievement for this type of event, which is usually prepared about a year in advance. The success was truly apparent when we realised that all the participants, without exception, had expressed themselves on the subject.
How about the financial aspects of the project?
The project is financed by the European Union to a value of 300 000 euros. Here again, we need to be active and find complementary funding. However, we are optimistic!
Danièle Clavel is a geneticist and a drought specialist who began her career at CIRAD in 1986, as part of the maize breeding projects in Ivory Coast, then in Madagascar. She subsequently lived in Senegal for ten years, where she worked on groundnut. She is involved in numerous European projects. AIDA is the third European project that she has coordinated.
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