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Roundtable on Agricultural Transformation
Agricultural transformation: Sustainable intensification of food production in the Southern African region
The topic of this roundtable was aligned with a STIAS research theme. The initiative was linked to one of the long-term STIAS research themes concerned with Sustainable agro-ecosystems and the subtheme Sustainable intensification of agriculture which STIAS will promote for five years under the leadership of five international fellows.
Preparation and organisation
Actual preparations started in the month of August preceding the roundtable. Four of the associated fellows (the fifth could not attend because of illness in the family) were in residence at STIAS and formed the core committee. They organised series of consultative meetings (around two per week) with stakeholders, researchers and experts from the region, some of whom were flown in for their meetings. The meetings were used as opportunities to assess the available expertise, create topics for conversation in the upcoming roundtable, canvas participation in the roundtable and start drafting the programme.
Because of experience in the previous roundtable, the committee resolved to minimise formal presentations of conference-like papers during the roundtable, to stimulate discussion with input by panels giving short statements and provocative inputs, and to create more opportunities for interactive discussion, amongst others utilising a roundtable seating pattern of six to eight delegates per table. The programme was drafted according to these principles.
This was also the first roundtable to utilise the services of a (part-time) STIAS media representative, ensuring more extensive media contacts and coverage both before and after the roundtable. This also improved reporting on the roundtable. (The committee also insisted on utilisation of postgraduate students to write reports on the roundtable sessions. In general, their reports did not add to the quality of the reporting.)
Over forty international and regional participants were drawn from various agricultural stakeholder sectors. The research and expertise sector was predominant. Gender parity was not achieved but African voices were significant amongst the representatives. The policy sector was represented mostly by delegates from government departments, though no cabinet ministers attended. Business representatives contributed important perspectives, but actual farming enterprises, commercial or subsistence, were only indirectly represented (for example by officials who were also farmers).
Outcomes and impact
The main outcome of the roundtable was “A vision of agricultural intensification at multiple scales with broad stakeholder participation for food and nutritional security in southern Africa”. The components of this vision were articulated during the various sessions of the roundtable and consolidated in the final session, although the major writing of the vision took place afterwards.
The results of the roundtable were circulated amongst participants with the intention to develop an electronic network. Future steps included think-tanks with experts on the drivers of change and development of intensification strategies that have positive impacts on food and nutrition, and on the environment and human-wellbeing.
Several reports appeared in the press, some as a result of interviews with committee members.
Work will be followed up and continued in annual meetings under the umbrella of the STIAS research theme on Sustainable agro-ecosystems, where a further symposium is planned as well as the publication of research results and consultations.