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Eastern and Southern Africa

The Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office (ESARO) plays a crucial role in facilitating collaboration and knowledge sharing among stakeholders across disciplines and sectors.

Recognizing the significance of youth is essential in our region, given that they constitute approximately 70% of the population in Eastern and Southern Africa. With an estimated 350 million young individuals, their role and involvement are vital. With a focus on achieving greater impact on a larger scale, ESARO contributes to the realization of the African Union's Agenda 2063, which serves as the continent's comprehensive blueprint for inclusive and sustainable development.

Research focus

For more than 50 years, IDRC has collaborated with researchers, innovators, communities and the private sector to foster inclusive economies, encompassing paid and unpaid care work, improve health systems, enhance education and science systems, boost agricultural productivity and food security, promote good governance and inclusive justice systems, address inequalities and tackle climate change, among other areas.















South Africa


South Sudan





Country Profile

Ethiopia has faced numerous challenges in recent decades, including sporadic conflict, recurrent drought, and famine. These crises have greatly affected agriculture and quality of life. They have also shaped our funding priorities. 

Safe and sufficient access to food

Improving agriculture and nutrition in Ethiopia has been an ongoing IDRC priority. In the 1970s, we supported Ethiopian scientists’ efforts to breed hardier, higher-yielding varieties of sorghum that were adapted to high altitudes. Research also focused on protecting sorghum from the parasitic weed striga, which led to the development of a drought- and striga-resistant variety.

We also provided pioneering support to an African initiative that worked in five East African countries to preserve scarce land and water resources. In Ethiopia, this resulted in more effective pest-control strategies, better quality water, and new food and cash crops.

More recently, research has introduced more nutritious, higher-yielding chickpea varieties and identified better production techniques. This has resulted in yields exceeding those of traditional varieties by 60–90%. The healthier legumes and nutrition education have helped children gain weight, a key indicator of nutrition. 

Improved health and well-being

Research to identify how to reduce anemia in preschool children found that food cooked in iron pots could boost their iron intake. These findings led the World Food Programme to explore the use of iron pots as a sustainable strategy to reduce iron deficiency in emergency and refugee situations.

Our support for health research led to the creation of a master’s program in public health at Addis Ababa University, with the collaboration of Canada’s McGill University. The program is still going strong. Past graduates have found senior posts within the Ministry of Health and district health offices.

Total IDRC Support

167 activities worth CAD48.5 million since 1972

Ethiopia girls laughing.
DFID / J.Lea

Our support is helping

  • address youth employment in micro- and small-businesses
  • empower the rural poor to better manage natural resources for greater food and income security
  • promote the use of edible legume seeds — like chickpeas, lentils, and faba beans — for alternate sources of protein, income, and food security
  • strengthen knowledge-sharing between scientists and policymakers in Kenya and Ethiopia 
  • build research capacities within Ethiopian policy research think tanks 

Country Profile

Kenya has long been the economic hub of East Africa, but despite significant economic strides in the past decade, poverty and inequality remain.

Our long-term support for research in the country has focused on areas such as rural development, agriculture, health, education, and climate change adaptation.

We have also prioritized economic research to strengthen economic debate and promote evidence-based decision-making. For example, IDRC helped launch the Nairobi-based African Economic Research Consortium. Now an independent public organization, the Consortium is addressing the shortage of policy-oriented economic researchers in sub-Saharan Africa. Hundreds have graduated from the Consortium’s master’s and doctoral programs, and they now form a cadre of influential economists who contribute to their national economies from within the region’s governments, private sector, and universities.

Digital solution for peace

Researchers discovered that a deadly conflict in 2012 between farmers and nomadic herders in Kenya was fuelled largely by rumours. To prevent a repeat occurrence, Canada’s Sentinel Project and Nairobi’s iHub technology incubator launched “Una Hakika”, a mobile application that enables communities to report, track, and verify rumours. The application has reached approximately 45,000 beneficiaries in Tana Delta and is being scaled in Lamu County and Nairobi to reach approximately 1 million people.

Evidence-based policy for health

Research on the impact of communications and information technologies is strengthening Kenya’s health system. Thanks to our funding, the Kenya Medical Research Institute has generated the evidence needed by the Ministry of Health to revise the national e-Health strategy, develop the first-ever e-Health policy, and establish mobile health, or m-health, standards and guidelines. These health interventions are now better regulated to protect patient information and advance patient health. 

Total IDRC Support

631 research activities worth CAD152.5 million since 1972

Kenya scientist making calculations.

Our support is helping

  • improve access to justice for 1.5 million people in Nairobi’s informal settlements
  • address health inequities and examine the feasibility of e-Health in Kenya
  • restore and expand Kenya’s capacity to conduct high-quality policy-relevant research
  • enhance women’s economic opportunities
  • preserve farmers’ livelihoods with a cattle lung disease vaccine
  • strengthen farmers’ ability to deal with climate change impacts

Country Profile

Given that 85% of Malawi’s population is agricultural smallholders, our focus has been largely on supporting farming systems. Early efforts improved crop production and processing methods.

For example, researchers developed a low-cost wooden tool to shell groundnuts, saving farmers time and money. Research modified hand pump designs to make them more durable. The Government of Malawi then began manufacturing the improved devices and engaged local villagers to install them.

While we continue to support research on agriculture, high rates of HIV/AIDS infection have shifted our priorities to health and nutrition. As well, the impact of climate change has focused research attention on helping farmers adapt to variable rainfall patterns.

More nutritious crops

Our support has aided the fight against poverty and malnutrition in Malawi. Researchers helped health institutions find ways to address degraded soils, food insecurity, and child malnutrition.

For example, more than 7,000 farmers in the Ekwendeni region adopted the recommendation to rotate traditional corn crops with legumes, such as groundnuts and

pigeon peas. The results: healthier children, improved soils, and larger harvests without the use of fertilizers. The community’s food security has increased and farmers have gained income by selling surplus crops.

Food security and HIV/AIDS

Our funding supported the creation of the Regional Network on HIV/AIDS, Livelihoods and Food Security, which highlighted the complex links between HIV/AIDS and access to nutritious food. Researchers showed that AIDS contributes to food insecurity by depleting the agricultural workforce, and diverting spending from farm inputs to health care.

They also found that the threat of hunger contributes to the transmission of HIV/AIDS, because it forces some Malawians to engage in high-risk sex to subsist. With the Network’s help, the Government of Malawi integrated food and nutrition programs into its HIV/AIDS prevention strategy.

Total IDRC Support

102 activities worth CAD27.6 million since 1978

People in rural Malawi gathering in a group to learn.
DFID / L.Mgbor

Our support is helping

  • test adaptation strategies to address climate change, health, and food security
  • explore urban-rural interdependence and the impact of climate change on food supply systems
  • simplify tools and training to improve access to high-quality patient care for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and other diseases
  • increase young rural women’s political participation in Malawi

Country Profile

South Africa has enjoyed considerable growth since the end of apartheid in 1994, but the benefits are distributed unequally. Many citizens still lack clean water, proper health care, and economic opportunity. Our support has focused on finding solutions for these challenges, along with ways to capitalize on the country’s strong research capacity.  Our work in South Africa began through a program designed to prepare the country’s future leaders to govern in a multi-racial democracy. Early research focused on health, urban issues, and economic and industrial policy. Further research helped deliver more effective diagnosis and treatment of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. 

Building a strong competition regime

We helped fund the government’s efforts to establish a strong competition regime to guarantee a fair marketplace. To bolster competition authorities in the region, we supported the African Competition Forum’s creation in 2010. Our research funding also helped increase competition and reduce taxes on information and communication technologies, extending their reach. Another key area of support allowed the public greater access to telecentres.

Protecting against climate change

Raising livestock is the backbone of the country’s agriculture system, but infectious diseases take a heavy toll. Researchers from the University of Alberta and the Agricultural Research Council in South Africa are developing an innovative livestock vaccine to protect goats, sheep, and cattle against five important viral infections with a single dose. 

South Africa’s agriculture sector faces considerable impact from climate change, as do its urban residents. In the Cape Flats, a low-lying coastal zone outside Cape Town, researchers identified better ways to address flooding. As a result of their work, the municipality collaborates more closely with communities and civil society organizations for solutions to flood risk, and carries out educational campaigns. 

Total IDRC Support

398 research activities worth CAD108 million since 1989

South Africa kids playing in a park.
DFID / L.Mgbor

Our support is helping to:

  • develop long-term responses to climate change in vulnerable, semi-arid areas
  • enable evidence-driven social and economic development
  • assess the effectiveness of health-promoting taxes
  • find better ways to control foot and mouth disease in livestock
  • assess the effectiveness of health-promoting taxes

Country Profile

We have a rich history of supporting research in Tanzania, a politically stable democracy. Although the country has reduced the poverty rate and achieved good economic growth in the last decade, Tanzania remains one of the world’s poorest nations.

Successive Tanzanian governments have recognized the importance of improving health and agriculture in order to reduce poverty. Our support for research in these areas, as well as climate change, has contributed to significant advances.

Strengthening health systems

A decade-long research project carried out with funds from IDRC and Global Affairs Canada has enabled researchers to identify the major causes of death and disease by district. With this information, Tanzania’s Ministry of Health is able to allocate medical supplies and health services accordingly. As a result, child mortality in the two test districts declined by 40%, and adult mortality by 17% over five years. Tanzania has since rolled out the program nationally.

Tanzania is a country of focus for the multi-funder Innovating for Maternal and Child Health in Africa program. Canadian and Tanzanian researchers are joining forces with local health policymakers to develop community-based practical health interventions to reach mothers and children in rural Tanzania.

Building climate change leaders

Developing effective leadership is a critical element of addressing climate change challenges. For more than a decade, we have provided grants that foster the capacity to advance and apply scientific knowledge to climate change adaptation. Tanzania’s Institute of Resource Assessment led the fellowship program, providing grants to more than 120 early and mid-career professionals and researchers from 18 African countries with policy, masters, doctoral, post-doctoral, and teaching fellowships. These professionals now contribute to increasing the continent’s capacity to face climate variability and change. 

Total IDRC Support

258 activities worth CAD85.3 million since 1972

Meteorologist reading climate change measurements in Tanzania.

Our support is helping to:

  • revitalize the ability of Tanzanian think tanks to conduct research and influence policy
  • finance fellowships and foster links between researchers and institutions in Tanzania
  • reduce maternal and child deaths
  • encourage youth engagement for community safety
  • promote vitamin A fortified oil to combat malnutrition

Country Profile

Uganda’s poverty rate has been on a steady decline. However, this progress is being challenged by extreme droughts, neighboring conflicts, increasing poverty in the northern part of the country, and rising inequalities. 

Improving smallholder farmers’ livelihoods and nutrition

When we started supporting research in Uganda in 1972, agriculture was a major focus. Funding in these early years enabled Ugandan researchers to develop disease-resistant varieties of sorghum and bananas, thereby increasing yields and improving the livelihoods of farmers.

Now groundbreaking agricultural innovations in Uganda and Kenya are being supported by the multi-funder program Cultivate Africa’s Future. Researchers have developed pre-cooked bean products that drastically reduce cooking times from three hours (for unprocessed beans) to only 10 minutes. This innovation is helping to break the most significant bean consumption barriers: long cooking times and high energy costs. 

Enhancing healthcare in isolated areas

Our funding helped develop the Uganda Health Information Network, an electronic system that successfully addresses information and data flow problems in an under-resourced health system. Hand-held computers, mobile caching services, and mobile telephones enable health workers in isolated areas to record immunization and disease cases, order medicine, and share prevention and treatment information. Now used in hundreds of health centres, the technology has enhanced healthcare delivery while cutting costs.

Eliminating the digital divide

We were one of the first organizations to support the development of a Ugandan strategy for adopting and integrating information and communications technology (ICT). Our research on ICTs influenced decision-making and policies. Studies informed Uganda’s ICT and universal access policies in the early 2000s — the first of their kind on the continent. These policies are taking communication services to rural areas, where more than 80% of the population lives. Uganda’s success has become a model for many other African countries.

Total IDRC Support

348 activities worth CAD81.3 million since 1972

Women sewing in Uganda.
Hewlett Foundation / J.Torgovnik

Our support is helping

  • promote land policies that are fair to women
  • stimulate high-quality, policy-relevant research among key institutions
  • introduce pre-cooked beans for food, nutrition, and income
  • develop effective health care interventions in post-conflict areas
  • create resilience to the water-related impacts of climate change in Uganda's cattle corridor

Country Profile

Zimbabwe was already a recognized centre for research and higher education when we began supporting research there in 1981. Deteriorating economic and political conditions, along with a mass exodus of researchers and academics, made it more challenging to work in Zimbabwe. 

Much of our efforts are now aimed at preserving research capacity inside the country. Our areas of focus have included forestry and tree crops, public health challenges such as malaria and AIDS, agricultural technology, and communal land and wildlife management.

Since the unity government in 2009, we’ve supported a national dialogue on post-crisis reconstruction and development. Our funds enabled researchers to conduct a poverty survey to determine areas of most need. Discussions with key decision-makers have helped bring the benefits of economic growth to Zimbabwe’s poorest populations.

Food security, nutrition, and health 

Early research strengthened access to quality food by developing ways to produce and process indigenous vegetables, helping raise awareness of their nutritional value. Working with IDRC-supported researchers, local farmers produced enough vegetable seeds to sell to local seed companies. 

Fairness in health

Ongoing support for research on health systems is having an impact in Zimbabwe. The Regional Network on Equity in Health in East and Southern Africa has been working since 1999 to reduce unnecessary and unfair differences in peoples’ health status. For example, it helped Southern African nations measure the need for health services in order to allocate public resources to those most in need. In 2011, Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health and Child Welfare adopted some of these measuring tools. 

Our funding has also enabled UNICEF and the ministries of health in Zimbabwe and Kenya to institute maternal death reviews in each country. Information on pregnancy-related deaths has led authorities to improve the quality of health services for expectant and new mothers.

Total IDRC Support

137 research activities worth CAD23.9 million since 1981

Boy sitting with donkeys in Zimbabwe.
ICRISAT / S.Sridharan

Our support is helping

  • promote sound policies for poverty recovery and growth 
  • coordinate research on women’s participation in micro- and small-businesses 
  • explore more sustainable, universal, and equitable health financing as a first step toward universal health coverage in Zimbabwe
  • raise the profile of migrant entrepreneurs and the growth of informal cities
  • investigate post-harvest solutions to reduce contamination in grain
  • strengthen evidence-based policy research and advocacy for Africa’s green revolution 

Nairobi, Kenya

PO Box 62084 00200, Nairobi, Kenya
Street address: Eaton Place, 3rd floor
United Nations Crescent, Gigiri, Nairobi, Kenya

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