How ABS Project Models Creative Partnerships
Africa's size and diversity necessitates science and technology partnerships to resolve its myriad challenges. The Africa Biofortified Sorghum (ABS) Project is now recognized as a model of creative partnerships, bringing together public/private, South/South and North/South partnerships.

"We are a continent of 54 nations and about 800 million people," says Project Co-Principal Investigator, Dr. Florence Wambugu. "As such, Africa is a melting pot of different cultures, languages, races, political ideologies, and ecological zones. For example, the four major official languages in Africa are English, French, Portuguese and Arabic".

"There is no one-size-fits-all solution to African problems," says Dr. Wambugu. "Each issue must be understood in the context of the relevant culture. Hence, there was a need to create the enabling environment for the development and use of ABS in Africa".

Pan-African Partnership has been the missing link
"Partnerships are as weak as their weakest link," says Dr. Wambugu. "If one partner looks up for technology or financial handouts and the other looks down because of their perceived bigger contribution, things will not work. The ABS Project Consortium is designed around the understanding that all partners bring something to the party".

The Africa Harvest CEO says "the consortium views the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation more like a partner than a donor". Dr. Wambugu says that during the formation of the ABS consortium, "we realised that many African institutions had something to contribute, but no single African organization has the infrastructure and the capacity to successfully undertake the scientific endeavour required for a project like ABS".

A strategic alliance was needed to leverage the best private and public partnership to deliver technology to fight malnutrition in Africa. The consortium members all have a specific background, definition and purpose relevant to each specific thrust of the project.
The networking of African institutions was critical to establishing a strong relationship with the northern partners. For example:

o The national agricultural research institutes (KARI, ARC, INERA) brought their expertise in field trials and breeding to the consortium,

o Pioneer donated technology – worth $4.8 million - and invested in African capacity building, ensuring Africa's contribution to the consortium was not token, but strengthened for future sustainability; over 70 scientists have been involved in the project

o The technology and research organisations (CSIR, ICRISAT, AATF) became the African technology recipients, given their have vast experience in enhancing and customising technology and intellectual property for use in Africa


o The universities (UP and UCB) value addition was the infrastructure and human resources for analytical work.


o The fourth group of institutions (AATF, CORAF/WECARD, AH) helped influence national politics, and worked on harmonising biosafety policies across country borders through advocacy for stakeholder awareness and technology acceptance.


North-South partnership

African institutions within the ABS Project have helped establish or strengthen the necessary political networks. As the project progressed, these institutions built their human and infrastructural capacity to ensure the project is in good hands in the future. The CSIR, for example, is the leading science and technology research institute in Africa, employing about 1,500 scientists in different areas of research.

"The glue that holds the partnership together is the financial partnership of the BMGF. This money facilitated the formation of the partnership between African and international institutions, and enabled the successful achievement of each institution's milestones," says Dr. Wambugu, who quickly adds: "Given the non-monetary contribution of each consortium member, we believe the current value of the project is probably three times than the initial financial contribution".

African ownership

The project has a strong communication aspect which has created an enabling environment for the project implementation. A lot of efforts have been put in to prepare for its domestication and anchorage in several African countries through outreach activities. Being African-led has positioned the project for maximum acceptance because of collective ownership by the African countries involved.


Success of the consortium

The ABS project has demonstrated professional and efficient project management of a 13-member worldwide consortium. The success of the consortium can be attributed to consistent yet innovative approaches to planning and communication. The ABS project required dynamism and an extreme ability to accommodate new demands and tasks. The project has demonstrated that pan-African and North-South partnerships can work, provided that communication flow and consultative decisions are made to enhance the institutional members' commitment to the partnerships.
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