Realizing the Promise and Potential of African Agriculture

Africa is rich in both natural and human resources, yet nearly 200 million of its people are undernourished because of inadequate food supplies.  Comprehensive strategies are needed across the continent to harness the power of science and technology (S&T) in ways that boost agricultural productivity, profitability, and sustainability -- ultimately ensuring that all Africans have access to enough safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs.  This report addresses the question of how science and technology can be mobilized to make that promise a reality.

Africa is rich in both natural and human resources, yet nearly 200 million of its people are undernourished because of inadequate food supplies.  Comprehensive strategies are needed across the continent to harness the power of science and technology (S&T) in ways that boost agricultural productivity, profitability, and sustainability -- ultimately ensuring that all Africans have access to enough safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs.  This report addresses the question of how science and technology can be mobilized to make that promise a reality.

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    In recent years, while there have been increases in food production in Africa, these increases have been offset by an even larger increase in human populations. While the availability of food per person since 1990 has increased by 30 percent in Asia and 20 percent in Latin America, it has gone down in Africa by 3 percent. Today many millions of people in southern Africa are on the brink of starvation.

    In March 2002, the Secretary-General of the United Nations requested that the InterAcademy Council (IAC) prepare a strategic plan for harnessing the best science and technology to increase the productivity of agriculture in Africa. In response to the Secretary-General's request, the IAC Board invited the 90 national member academies of the InterAcademy Panel on International Issues (IAP) to nominate candidates for undertaking this study on the role of science and technology in improving agricultural productivity and food security in Africa. The IAC Board then appointed a Study Panel on Agricultural Productivity in Africa, composed of Co-Chairs Speciosa Kazibwe of Uganda, Rudy Rabbinge of the Netherlands, and M.S. Swaminathan of India, plus 15 other distinguished members. The Study Panel's personal experience in agricultural sciences and agricultural policies spans all regions of the world, including of course Africa; it also includes many scientific disciplines.

    The charge to the Study Panel was to produce a consensus report for the United Nations that (1) addresses how science and technology can help to improve agricultural production in Africa, and (2) identifies the larger economic, social, and political conditions that will be necessary for effective use of this science and technology in both the public and private sectors. The Study Panel began its work with a series of regional workshops throughout Africa, which allowed it to benefit immensely from the expertise and views of African scientists on the key agricultural issues facing Africa. Then the Study Panel held a series of meetings to develop its conclusions and recommendations.

    The document that follows is the result. First written in draft form, the final report incorporates the Study Panel's response to an extensive external, independent and anonymous review process that involved 13 experts plus two distinguished scientists who served as review monitors. We thank all of the Study Panel members, reviewers, and monitors who contributed to this important effort. Special appreciation is due to the Study Panel's Co-Chairs and Study Director, who put much time and devotion into ensuring that the final product would make a difference.

    The InterAcademy Council also gratefully acknowledges the leadership exhibited by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the Netherlands Ministry of Development Cooperation, which provided the financial support for the conduct of the study and the distribution of this report.

    As this report emphasizes, realizing the promise and potential of African agriculture requires long-range approaches that will need to involve a broad array of African institutions and constituencies. But every long journey begins with first steps, and we urge that the following be initiated as soon as possible:

    • The UN Secretary General, in consultation with the African Union, should identify the most appropriate regional, national and international institutions to implement the innovative pilot programs that are recommended, which are designed to shape Africa's agricultural future. There should be strong African involvement at every step.
    • Interdisciplinary teams from African universities, research centers, extension services, and farmers' organizations should be created to prepare plans for promoting priority farming systems. Local farmers' advisory councils involving both men and women should be constituted to assume ownership and undertake monitoring and evaluation of the resulting initiatives.
    • African national governments should create centers of agricultural research excellence to serve the interests of smallholder farm families. These centers should help to provide location-specific information relating to meteorological, management, and marketing factors - as well as to promote literacy on critical genetic, quality, and trade issues among smallholder farm families.

    The scientific academies of the world, as close partners with their colleagues in Africa, stand ready to contribute their part to this great humanitarian effort of the early 21st century.

    Bruce ALBERTS
    President, U.S. National Academy of Sciences
    Co-Chair, InterAcademy Council

    Goverdhan MEHTA
    Former President, Indian National Science Academy
    Co-Chair, InterAcademy Council

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