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close this bookThe African Highlands Initiative - A Conceptual Framework (ICRAF, 1994, 28 p.)
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Open this folder and view contentsThe African Highlands Initiative
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Executive summary

The cool highlands of eastern and central Africa constitute about 23% of the total land mass of the region. The area is densely populated, with more than 100 million inhabitants (51% of the total population of the region) who are primarily dependent on agriculture. With their high rainfall and relatively good soils, the highlands have been the principal source of the staple foods, forest products, export crops, water and employment opportunities. The future of this natural resource base is, therefore, critical to the welfare and development potential of the region.

The African Highlands Initiative (AHI) is a response to the major concern of the national agricultural research systems (NARS) and the international agricultural research centres (IARCs) that decades of agricultural research in the relatively high-potential but densely populated highlands have not achieved commensurate results in terms of improved and sustainable land productivity. As the available land continues to be subdivided to accommodate the growing population, land productivity declines markedly. The major factors contributing to the diminishing capacity of the natural resource base (soil, water and vegetation) to meet the needs of the rapidly growing population are the existing resource-management systems and their response to inappropriate national agricultural policies, internal strife and escalating costs of agricultural inputs. This thesis has been debated by agricultural scientists, including directors of NARS, in the region over the past two years and has been generally endorsed as a starting point for a new research initiative in the region that would enable farmers and NARS to contribute to and benefit from improvements in agricultural policies and economic strategies that effect the management of the natural resources.

The overall goal of AHI is to sustainably improve and enhance land productivity within the intensive land-use systems of the highlands of eastern and central Africa by working with farmers to evolve policy and technologies that increase agricultural production while maintaining the quality of the natural resource base at the same time. This goal will be achieved through the following objectives:

· To develop a regional programme of research on the management of natural resources, particularly soil, that will contribute to the sustainability of agricultural and livestock production through improved technologies based on better understanding of the natural and socioeconomic environment, and in collaboration with the local communities

· To strengthen the capacity of NARS to deal with problems related to natural resource management and to establish links between different institutions and professionals at the national level dealing with sustainable land management

· To encourage cooperation between NARS in the region and between NARS and IARCs and other regional research and extension programmes dealing with natural resource research.

AHI will support, whenever possible, and collaborate with programmes covering various issues of agricultural production in the highlands, but will focus on the problem of enhancing sustainable land productivity in intensive land-use systems. Initially, this will be addressed through two main research themes:

· Maintenance and improvement of soil productivity
· Natural resource management strategies for effective and sustainable plant protection.

Three supporting themes have also been identified as key features of the initiative:

· Diagnostic and socioeconomic studies
· Training
· Information and documentation services.

These themes will also involve some research, especially on methodologies, but will emphasize development of capacity within NARS to address the problems on a long-term basis. During its implementation, AHI will operate at three levels:

The first level will comprise the national teams based at selected zonal stations and working on one or more of the priority themes within national programmes. These teams will operate at selected research sites (watersheds) in collaboration with farmer groups and development agencies, including non-governmental organizations, under the guidance of team leaders and technical advisory panels identified by the relevant authorities at the national level.

The second level will involve regional coordination of activities falling under each theme. This function will be carried out by a lead institution and will operate with the guidance of a small Technical Advisory Panel (TAP) drawn from the region. In some cases (e.g. the existing commodity networks), existing advisory committees will be used instead of creating new structures.

The third level will comprise the governing body or legal authority for the initiative. It is expected that the Highlands Initiative will become a component of the proposed Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA). As such, the governing body of ASARECA, including the Directors' Committee, will have the overall responsibility for the Highlands Initiative. There will, however, be a task force and a coordinating unit for the initiative that will report to the Directors' Committee.

AHI is a long-term programme that will be implemented in phases through a series of projects. Phase I (1994 to 1995) will be the establishment phase. A number of research and supporting activities will be initiated during this period, but major objectives will be to promote and demonstrate to participating institutions the potential benefits of the integrated approach to research in the highlands and to establish the process of internalizing the basic principles and methodologies.

The implementation of this initiative will require commitment of resources at national (institutional) and regional levels. The bulk of the funds for the activities at the national level will come from existing budgets but additional funds from donor sources will be needed to facilitate coordination and regional collaboration, to strengthen specific national research facilities essential for the execution of the programme and to ensure that the activities agreed upon are implemented according to the time schedules.

Until ASARECA is fully operational, and to minimize bureaucracy, new donor funds allocated to AHI will be managed through ICRAF, which will also assume responsibility for ensuring that the activities approved for Phase I, including coordination, are implemented in time. To carry out this function, ICRAF will need to be advised regularly by a technical task force comprising representatives of the lead institutions and team leaders from the participating countries.

The main beneficiaries of this initiative will be the small-scale farmers in the highlands, the urban poor who depend on inexpensive and reliable supplies of food from the highlands, and those responsible for agricultural and land-use policies.