Returning to his alma mater as a distinguished speaker in the food security lecture series, Director General of the International Livestock Research Institute Dr. Jimmy Smith presented a case for broadened agricultural development in Africa.
Smith, who earned his Ph.D. in animal sciences at Illinois, began his lecture by paying tribute to his mentors during his education at Illinois, which he referred to as one of the most formative times in his life.
Smith argued that agricultural development in Africa must and can do much more than produce more food.
“It is not just about food security but economic development more broadly,” he explained.
Smith emphasized Africa’s untapped potential, including its people, land, and water, that could be employed to produce food that is currently imported. That production could then allow for importation of medicine and other products the continent cannot produce.
Addressing the “youth bulge” of population aged 15-24, he hoped that instead of taking boats to seek better lives, these youth can benefit from modernized and mechanized agriculture that will provide increased opportunities in Africa that do not exist today.
“What Africa needs is a Marshall Plan in Agriculture,” he said.
Large investments are required to transform African agriculture to employ young people and drive economic change, he said.
Smith hopes African governments and the international donor community can work together to make sustainable livestock development and efficient agricultural intensification top priorities, by ramping up the use of agricultural inputs and modern biotechnologies.
“My wish is that the University of Illinois’ longstanding and distinguished agricultural research, training and partnerships, of which I am a grateful beneficiary, can be put to even greater use for Africa’s development, particularly that of its young people, who are hungry for jobs and livelihoods as well as food, and on whose ambitions the future of much, within and beyond Africa, depends,” Smith said.
Smith said he looks forward to “seeing even more orange and blue around the world, especially in Africa,” and invited everyone in the audience to visit him at ILRI.
Before joining ILRI as director in 2011, Smith worked for the World Bank, in Washington, DC, where he led the Bank’s Global Livestock Portfolio. Before joining the World Bank, he held senior positions at the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). Still earlier in his career, Smith worked at ILRI and its predecessor, the International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA), where he served as the institute’s regional representative for West Africa and subsequently managed the ILRI-led System-wide Livestock Programme of the CGIAR, an association of 10 CGIAR centres working at the crop-livestock interface. Before his decade of work at ILCA/ILRI, Smith held senior positions in the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI).