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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  • Preface

    Africa is recognized as a continent of promise and potential, much as yet unrealized. Agriculture is pivotal to the realization of these aspirations as it contributes 70 percent of employment, 40 percent of exports and one-third of gross domestic product. Agricultural development in rural Africa, where three-quarters of the continent's food and nutrition insecure reside, would offer these communities relief and hope for a brighter future. Enhancing African agricultural productivity is a prerequisite for eradicating African poverty and associated food and nutrition insecurity. The smaller the farm, the greater is the need for marketable surplus and thereby cash income that is essential for sustainable nutrition security. Agricultural productivity trends in recent decades in Africa have been disappointing.

    The InterAcademy Council sponsored this study at the request of the Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan. It was to explore how science and technology can be more effectively used to improve agricultural productivity and thereby to improve food security. This report is complementary to the current assessment by the UN Millennium Development Goals Hunger Task Force as it looks at other aspects involved in reducing hunger and food insecurity.

    This report is addressed to a wide audience, ranging in Africa from heads of state, ministers and permanent heads in most portfolios to farmers and their representative organizations. The recommendations and action agenda in the report give a key role to leaders of universities, national agricultural research systems and institutions; the private sector, regional and subregional intergovernmental organizations; academic, scientific and extension staff; nongovernmental and community-based organizations and the mass media. Multilateral and bilateral financial, research and development and donor agencies are also an important audience, as they have an important role to play in African agricultural development.

    Like the first report of the InterAcademy Council in 2004, Inventing a better future: A strategy for building worldwide capacities in science and technology, this report is strategic and conceptual rather than prescriptive. This is as intended by the Study Panel. The African continent is large and diverse, and it would be presumptuous of the Study Panel to devise detailed operational plans. These are more appropriately made by relevant national, regional and continental organizations with the knowledge and experience of their mandated domains. The Study Panel hopes that the report's analyses, strategic directions and recommendations will generate a strong sense of ownership and commitment by the various stakeholders in Africa's development, and motivate them to take the necessary next steps.
    Toward this objective the Study Panel suggests using pilot programs as a way of connecting its strategy and recommendations. These pilot programs are but one of the five steps that the Study Panel recognizes that are required to realize Africa's agricultural promise and potential:

    1. Undertake analyses
    2. Formulate strategies
    3. Plan and conduct pilot programs
    4. Develop operational plans
    5. Implement plans.

    The Study Panel addresses the first three of these steps; the other two become the next steps for our readers to embrace and carry forward. To develop a strong sense of ownership and commitment for our intended audience, the Study Panel adopted a two-tiered approach in conducting this study. First, a series of consultative workshops in four regions of Africa were held to allow stakeholders to convey their views on the constraints and opportunities in African agriculture, and the role that science and technology could play in future. Second, several background papers were commissioned on key topics bringing together current thoughts and research for the Study Panel's consideration. The report is hence a synthesis of the outcomes of this two-tiered process, and the result hopefully is a hybrid with vigour.

    The Study Panel, composed of 3 Co-Chairs and 15 members, met three times in Africa during 2002-2003 to formulate its recommendations, based on its review of the documentation from the workshops and commissioned papers, extensive electronic communications, and additional papers contributed by the Study Panel members. Strengthened by consultative drafting and spirited redrafting, the report followed the InterAcademy Council's peer review and monitoring processes from December 2003 to February 2004. The final report represents the consensus views of all the Study Panel members.

    Speciosa Wandira KAZIBWE
    Study Panel Co-Chair

    Rudy RABBINGE
    Study Panel Co-Chair

    M.S. SWAMINATHAN
    Study Panel Co-Chair

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