DeSIRA-LIFT: Bridging the Gap for Climate-Smart and Sustainable Food Systems

March 8, 2023

Global food systems are facing different crises that are shaking the foundations of food security. From Covid-19 to climate change and regional conflicts, these shocks have exposed the vulnerabilities of global food production and supply chains. In many parts of the world, particularly Africa, food security is declining. The DeSIRA Initiative is tackling these challenges head-on by supporting research and innovation towards agriculture and food systems transformation. WUR is involved as research partner in the DeSIRA programme and as lead partner of the DeSIRA-LIFT facility, to bridge the gap between science, practice, and policy. Read on to learn how.

Halfway through its implementation, the DeSIRA-LIFT programme is delivering crucial findings on Africa's food systems. Helena Posthumus, programme director at the Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation, shares: “As we navigate the challenges posed by multiple global crises - including Covid-19, climate change, and conflict – one thing is clear. This is the urgency to address food and nutrition security, soil health, biodiversity loss, and disrupted global value chains. However, determining what innovations, transitions, and policies are necessary to transform food systems is a heated debate.”

EU programme

DeSIRA-LIFT is a support facility to the European Commission's DeSIRA Initiative, which includes nearly 80 research projects aimed at creating climate-smart and sustainable food systems in the Global South. DeSIRA-LIFT provides training, joint learning opportunities and support to these projects through a Community of Practice and mobilising experts. This Community of Practice facilitates exchanges between research projects on common challenges, assisting projects to prove and improve their impacts.

The programme extends its services to African regional research and extension organisations (AFAAS, FARA, ASARECA, CCARDESA, CORAF), and two key policy players in the sector, namely the African Union Commission and DG INTPA of the European Commission. By mobilising expertise, commissioning reviews and studies, and bringing valuable insights into international policy dialogues, DeSIRA-LIFT works to elevate the impact of the DeSIRA Initiative. The focus is therefore on research and innovation in support of agroecological transitions of food systems in the Global South in particular. The facility is run by a consortium of Agrinatura members (WUR, CIRAD, ISA, SLU, NRI) and EFARD members (COLEAD).

Developments in seed laws harmonisation in Africa

Recently DeSIRA-LIFT published a report on seed policies in Africa. According to a review conducted by the programme, seed policies on the continent are fragmented and inconsistent. Posthumus explains: “With the new Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), there is a need to harmonise these policies. The review shows that while some international seed treaties and policies allow farmers to save, reuse, or exchange seed, others do not, leading to a risk of criminalising farmers for their traditional practices of seed saving and exchange. This is a significant concern, as a large portion of seed available to farmers in Africa is produced by the farmers themselves and is crucial to their food and nutrition security.”

A large portion of seed available to farmers in Africa is produced by the farmers themselves and is crucial to their food and nutrition security.
Helena Posthumus

DeSIRA-LIFT is working with the African Union Commission to address these issues and support farmer-managed seed systems within the context of the implementation of a Seed Harmonisation Guideline across the continent. In fact, the implementation of international seed treaties into national laws requires specific knowledge and expertise, which not all countries may possess. Because of that, DeSIRA-LIFT is working to supply the African Union Commission with knowledge and expertise that can help it to address this political and contentious issue and ensure the safeguarding of farmer-managed seed systems.


Another example of DeSIRA-LIFT support was the collaboration with the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) in preparation for their participation at COP27 in Egypt. A review study confirmed that, despite ten years of COP negotiations, agriculture has not been a significant topic of discussion. This is telling - agriculture is a crucial component of climate change adaptation in Africa. Currently, there is growing recognition of the role of agriculture in climate change at COPs. The review also found that although funding is available for climate change mitigation and adaptation, many African nations face challenges in accessing climate finance. Both of these issues were given high priority on the COP27 agenda.