The Eastern Africa Community of Practice (CoP) consists of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda, a region characterized by diverse cropping systems, a wide array of food crops, and farming systems that all pose a significant challenge to agricultural research. Many farmers across the region face similar climatic, edaphic, and biotic challenges, such as weathered soils with low and declining fertility and erratic rainfall that is likely being exacerbated by climate change. Water stress varies widely as Kenya and Ethiopia contain mostly arid or semi-arid areas and Uganda contains largely humid or sub-humid tropics. A range of pests and diseases attacks crops, while production technologies, value chains, and markets are often poorly developed.
All three countries face high levels of poverty and chronic food insecurity. Agriculture is the main employment sector, yet it receives little public investment. Most poor people inhabit relatively favorable areas, but population pressures result in land degradation and division. Women play key roles in agriculture but have limited access to resources. Diets are high in carbohydrates and lacking in nutritional diversity.
The CoP aims to improve the performance of farming systems primarily through support for crop improvement and diversification and an emphasis on management strategies that enhance crop access to scarce soil nutrients and water resources and reduce pest and disease losses. Crop improvement strategies include breeding for greater tolerance to the pests and diseases that threaten finger millet, sweetpotato, banana, and enset, as well as greater adaptation to biotic stresses related to problems of low soil fertility and drought. Crop diversification strategies include improving farmers' access to greater varietal diversity within the crops they already grow, introducing them to new crops that can offer multiple benefits (improved nutrition, soil fertility enhancement, sources income, etc), and strengthening breeding/value chains for diverse primary and secondary crops. CoP research also emphasizes the use of integrated management strategies and enhanced understanding of ecological relationships and processes.
More recently, the CoP is also turning attention to post-harvest issues (food quality, safety, and profitability) to increase the likelihood that greater crop diversity will lead to better diets and livelihoods. The CoP is being invigorated by exposure to new tools and methods that improve strategic targeting of agricultural research/interventions and new models for engaging and empowering farmers.