“Agriculture cannot be a curse, it can only be a driver to development,” said Hon Tress Bucyanayandi, Ugandan Minister of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, in his opening remarks at the Mining and Agriculture Symposium hosted by the Australian Government in Kampala, Uganda, from 8 to 10 October 2014.
The event brought together approximately 150 experts representing public and private sectors, academia and civil society to discuss ways in which to maximise the development benefits of mining and agriculture in Africa. These included nearly 100 Alumni from Australian Government-funded programs from over 20 African countries and another 50 researchers, decision makers, activists and officials from governments, NGOs and international research institutions.
The three-day symposium themed From resource curse to development driver provided an opportunity for participants to reflect, exchange ideas, and share expertise and best practice on ways in which agriculture and mining can be harnessed for development in Africa.
Officially opening the event on 8 October, HE Geoff Tooth, Australian High Commissioner to Uganda, spoke about the strong relationship between Australia and Africa and the similarities in experience they share. He also outlined Australian’s support to Africa in harnessing the potential of these two sectors and emphasised the need for synergies between them.
“Thanks to our Alumni and our strong relationship […], the Africa-Australia relationship is going from strength to strength. Agriculture and mining are key to that relationship and critical to the health of economies in sub-Saharan Africa,” High Commissioner Tooth said.
In the course of this three-day event, participants discussed, in an open space, issues for which they have a passion and would like to contribute towards improving. Topics discussed include how policies can support transformation so that the very poor, vulnerable smallholder farmers are not reliant on subsidies or caught in the poverty trap. Participants also reflected on opportunities for using mining infrastructure such as rail, water and power to leverage agricultural development. Furthermore, they examined the challenges facing these two sectors, as well as the synergies between them that can support broader socio-economic development in Africa, among other topics.
“I found the symposium to be very useful. I learned new ideas and practices relevant to my work. I networked and made new friends,” said Kolapo Oluwasemire, Alumnus from Nigeria.
Poster presentations showcasing the work Alumni are doing to effect positive change in Africa added another dimension to the symposium. From Angola to Zimbabwe, these are initiatives that are making a real difference.
In Uganda, the Knowledge Bank project is gathering critical information that is being made available to communities regarding recently started oil explorations in the country. In Cameroon, a partnership with artisanal gold miners is transforming abandoned mining pits into pools for fish farming, which is benefitting local communities. In Kenya, a government-funded program targeting small-scale horticulture producers in selected areas benefitted 5,820 farmer households from 2008 to 2014. These are just a few examples of about 80 posters presented by Alumni at the symposium.
Apart from the rich discussions that unfolded and the networking opportunities, the symposium was about results. Participants were invited to propose projects they would like to take forward based on the discussions and networks established. They put forward 14 projects covering topics as critical as climate change, engaging youth in agriculture, and community participation in mining policy and regulation. Furthermore, participants were encouraged to form communities of practice after the symposium to continue to share and learn from each other.
“The event was an incubator of ideas and opportunities,” said Davina Boyd, Researcher from Murdoch University, who attended the event. It will be interesting to follow up on the projects that were crafted at this event to learn of their successes in the months to come.
Since the 1960s, the Australian Government’s aid program has funded activities to share Australia’s experiences in mining and agriculture with African nations and support African governments’ efforts to harness these sectors for development. Australia Awards – Africa, the Australia-Africa Partnerships Facility (AAPF), the Australia Development Research Awards Scheme (ADRAS) and the International Mining for Development Centre (IM4DC) have all included activities to build relevant skills, establish sound governance and promote productive linkages between the industries. Alumni and researchers from all these funding mechanisms were represented at the symposium.