IITA’s focus in Central Africa largely overlaps with the Congo basin and covers 7 countries including Burundi, Cameroon, Congo Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, DR Congo (DRC), Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Rwanda. Agroecologically, Central Africa’s varying climate means the region sees both lush forests, in the Congo sasin, and more semi-arid areas to the north and south. As a result, the most prominent farming systems are forest-based, root crop systems, cereal-root crop systems, and tree crop systems with many people living within highland perennial systems. The Central Africa region is also home to some of the last remaining primary forests in Africa.
Challenges In Central Africa
With a total population of 139 million people, 89 million of whom live in rural areas, and a total agricultural acreage of 110 million hectares, the majority of the population in Central Africa is rural with farming as their main occupation. However, despite the relatively high agricultural potential of the region, poverty is widespread with over 75% of the population living below US$2 a day and with a substantial proportion of people earning less than US$1.25 per day. Overall, poverty levels are higher in Central Africa than in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa and extreme poverty remains one of the major challenges facing the region. The problem of poverty is further compounded by the fact that Central Africa has traditionally received relatively little attention from the international R4D community, including CGIAR. Most of the Central African countries are low priority for many investors often because of their history of conflict, limited impact enablers, and infrastructure challenges. The region has also experienced a substantial decline in research capacity at the national level due to underfunded national institutes, and the exodus of qualified staff. The situation is exacerbated by the relatively small proportion of GDP spent on agriculture by most of the region’s countries. IITA has been active in DRC for almost 40 years and we are one of the few CGIAR centers with a physical presence in the country. We have been working―with DRC’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development―to help transform DRC’s economy using science and agricultural R4D to address the value chain of important agricultural commodities, promoting enhanced livelihoods, more food, greater incomes, and healthier lives in DRC. To fully realize our vision for DRC, we acquired a property strategically located in Kalambo, Bukavu next door to the Universite Catholique de Bukavu (UCB) where we have constructed a modern science building that serves as an international center of excellence in food and agriculture research. The ultra-modern, environmentally friendly science building has five up-to-date, state-of-the-art laboratories and greenhouse facilities dedicated to building the R4D capacity of Central Africa. The IITA Kalambo Science Building can host up to 40 researchers from IITA, CGIAR partners, and national agricultural research institutes, including research students from national and international universities. The Science Building is dedicated to our mission to fight hunger and poverty in Central Africa and will help boost agricultural productivity in DRC and the surrounding region. We are also implementing R4D activities in Burundi and Rwanda, and we have initiatives underway to work in the Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and Gabon. Many opportunities exist to transfer and adapt IITA products and approaches to Central Africa. Over the past 45 years, we have accumulated a wealth of experience in the genetic improvement of our mandate crops, agronomic and soil fertility management options that enhance productivity , value addition and postharvest management, and improvement of the nutritional quality of the crop produce. IITA is well-placed to deliver on our goals for the region which are to lift over 3.4 million Central Africans out of poverty and turn 1.0 million hectares of land to sustainable use.