Agrifood research could benefit African countries
Research event on our campus spurs ideas for collective action to improve food production in African countries.
At the recent research dialogue “AgriFood transformations for Africa: working together for impact” scientists at Easter Bush campus had the opportunity to share their innovative work and discuss pathways for progress.
More than 50 researchers participated, representing key groups at Easter Bush campus: the Roslin Institute, Supporting Evidence-Based Interventions (SEBI), Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health (CTLGH), Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Security, Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and the International Veterinary Vaccinology Network (IVVN).
This was the second year researchers got together for Africa Week, which celebrates the University's links across Africa.
The agriculture and livestock sectors play a central role in the lives of people across tropical Africa and science plays an important role in developing this sector as a pathway to ending poverty, inequality, hunger and malnutrition where it exists.
Researchers across the University of Edinburgh’s Easter Bush Campus have long worked with African partners to develop and test innovations that will improve productivity in the agrifood sector.
Dairy profit index
Dr Oluyinka Opoola from the Roslin Institute and CTLGH is working on a project to develop a dairy profit index to help maximise dairy outputs and income for dairy farmers in Rwanda.
The project, undertaken in collaboration with Rwanda’s Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board and funded by Jersey Overseas Aid, focus on the Jersey breed, which will support future profit-led management decisions by Rwandan smallholder dairy farmers.
Together with a range of partners, Professor Ross Houston from the Roslin Institute is using genomic tools for improving Nile tilapia in African aquaculture.
One of their activities is to investigate the genetic basis of disease resistance, and use these insights to test and optimise genomic selection for Egyptian and Malaysian breeding programs.
Goat breeding technologies
Together with partners at SRUC, Dr Emily Clark from the Roslin Institute and CTLGH presented the “Million bucks” strategy for delivering transformative goat breeding technologies.
By using a combination of modern reproductive technologies, e.g. artificial insemination, embryo transfer or semen sexing, and a surrogate sire system, this initiative distributes thousands of donor elite bucks directly into the existing infrastructure.
This approach leapfrogs the need to establish costly new breeding infrastructure, and directly disseminates elite genetics without social disruption.
While there are many options for feed livestock, it’s not always clear which ones are locally appropriate or feasible. Professor Alan Duncan from the Global Academy and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) is working on mapping feasibility of livestock feed options in Africa.
The work, which is a collaboration with the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, aims to stimulate the adoption of better feed options at scale in order to transform livestock productivity and hence livelihoods.
Innovative evidence maps
Dr Theodora Tsouloufi from SEBI is producing innovative evidence maps of livestock disease and mortality in Ethiopia, which integrate hundreds of existing studies to generate new insights and intelligence on livestock disease in Ethiopia.
These maps will be presented via interactive visualisations and dashboards to allow funders, decision makers and other researchers to easily assess and grasp the available body of evidence.
Theodora’s team will be working with informatics experts at the University of Edinburgh’s Bayes Centre to accelerate the research and synthesis process using text mining and automation technologies.
Increasing knowledge exchange and collaboration
Although great progress had been made, there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of advancing livestock innovations in the African context, such as improving crops and livestock health.
Attendees to the event are keen to further develop connections and improve integration among scientists at Easter Bush campus, to enable sharing, collaboration and collective impact.
I am delighted with the number of attendees at the event, which I think reflects the large and increasing volume of activity and research that we are undertaking on this campus to improve food security in Africa.
We must seize the opportunity we have to work together on system change for improved food security in Africa.
** The Roslin Institute receives strategic investment funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and it is part of the University of Edinburgh’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. **