The global appeal to strategise against the threat of rising food shortage and efforts to enhance agriculture and the livelihoods of smallholder farmers, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, have received a major boost.
This came with the funding of a PhD/MSc Soil Science Programme at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), at the cost of US$2.6million.
AGRA’s PhD/MSc Soil Science programme, which is geared toward building the capacity of the next generation of soil scientist in Africa as part its effort to bring about sustainable food production through improvement in soil fertility and others, is also expected to help to address the worsening condition of agricultural lands.
According to a recent United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report, Africa has lost about 65 percent of its agricultural land since 1950 due to land degradation.
It also revealed that up to 12 percent of the continent’s agricultural gross domestic product (GDP) is lost due to deteriorating conditions, putting 135 million people at risk of having to move from their land by 2020 due to desertification.
Africa’s population is set to double to 2 billion by 2050, the majority of whom are estimated to continue depending on agriculture to make a living, the report further captured.
In the face of these staggering statistics, many African states have not shown enough commitment to work toward ensuring adequate preparations are made to ensure food security.
AGRA notes that the African continent is challenged with a soil health crisis that demands for urgency in rethinking and reshaping the way agricultural development within sub-Saharan Africa, including Ghana, is realised.
It is along this understanding that the initiative by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) is considered timely in supporting capacity building efforts and progressive academic studies, to identify means through which soil health can be enhanced and lead to improved crop yield.
AGRA’s PhD/MScSoil Science programme, which started in 2010 at the Faculty of Agriculture of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, has a student population of about 35 from across the sub-region, including students from Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Ghana.
Prof. R.C. Abaidoo, Project Coordinator, said agriculture has lacked support in terms of human capacity building for some period of time now — against the backdrop that less than 2 percent of Africa’s agriculture scientists are soil scientists.
“You can imagine what this means if soil research is really important for sustainable food production,” he noted.
He acknowledged that AGRA’s PhD/MSc Soil Science programme, which has a four-year duration with the first batch of beneficiary students expected to graduate in November 2014, is much more integrated, with a well-revised curriculum adopted to replace the indigenous soil science programme.
Dr. Charles Kwoseh, Head of Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, said the introduction of AGRA’s PhD/MSc Soil Science has helped to deepen the capacity of students and lecturers, aiding them to work extra hard to conduct and complete research work on time.
He noted that with the assistance provided by AGRA, new courses have been introduced to beef-up the traditional science courses as well as support to equip the Department’s current science laboratory, making it one of the best in the sub-region.
Prof. Richard Akromah, Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture, said not only has AGRA’s PhD/MSc Soil Science programme helped to boost the number of graduate students of the Faculty, but it has also immensely contributed to the provision of physical infrastructure.
AGRA is a dynamic partnership working across the African continent to help millions of smallholder farmers and their families lift themselves out of poverty and hunger.
AGRA programmes develop practical solutions to significantly boost farm productivity and incomes for the poor while safeguarding the environment.
It also advocates for policies that supports its work across all key aspects of the African agricultural value chain; from seeds, soil health and water to markets and agricultural education.