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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  • Agricultural Research Strategies and Policies

    During the past 20 years in Africa, a great deal of emphasis has been placed on the development of national agricultural research strategies and priorities, which have often occurred within the context of World Bank loans. One of the CGIAR centres, the International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR) has frequently been associated with the development of these strategies and priorities (Hambly and Setshwealo, 1997). In spite of this, agricultural research does not come high on the list of priorities in the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers of African countries (Figure 5.2). Twenty-four of these papers have been reviewed by the Study Panel and it has been found that, while agriculture is seen as a key component of economic growth and poverty reduction, science and technology is mentioned as an important element in only half the cases. Only four of the 24 papers mention agricultural research as a priority for poverty reduction.

    There is a need to develop coherent national and regional agricultural S&T strategies and policies. There may be a greater role for national councils of science and technology, academies of science and professional associations in this respect. A scientific advisor or chief scientist, who is responsible to the Prime Minister, is viewed by many as a necessary complement to these initiatives. Also the contributions of national agricultural research systems and subregional organizations for this process should be explored. Any R&D priority setting requires improvement, with greater accountability of all actors and stakeholder participation. There is also a need for role clarity through strengthened monitoring and evaluation capabilities and geo-referenced data and information management.

    African governments see technology diffusion as being more of a constraint than technology generation. The most frequently mentioned agricultural priorities in the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers were the improvement of rural infrastructure, development of markets, extension/advisory services, diversification out of agriculture, a special focus on women farmers, farmer training and promotion of farmer organizations. These were consistent with the priorities that emerged in the consultative workshops the Study Panel conducted in collaboration with the subregional organizations. They are also reflected in the current strategies of the subregional organizations and FARA.

    The notion that technologies available 'on-the-shelf' are sufficient to solve all or most agricultural problems in Africa has been a factor in the continuing decline in the funding of research by governments, donors and international financial institutions since the 1980s. For example, the World Bank funding for African agricultural research went from a peak of US$120 million in 1991 to US$8 million in 2002 (in 1993 dollars). That of USAID went from a peak of US$80 million in 1982 to US$4 million in 1999. Other sectoral priorities, such as health and education, have also emerged as funding competitors with agricultural research.

    The Study Panel concurs with a short-term strategy of exploiting technologies on-the-shelf by enhancing investments in infrastructure, adaptive and participatory research with farmers by improved policies, market access and information. However, keeping the technology pipeline flowing requires a renewed emphasis on long-term strategic and applied research in, and for, Africa by Africans. This type of research has much longer lead and lag times than adaptive research. The lack of priority accorded to agricultural research in the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers does not augur well for this to happen.

    The Study Panel notes that there now may be a window of opportunity for the renewal of the priority accorded to agricultural research with the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD, 2002). The NEPAD strategy, which has been agreed to by African heads of State, includes:

    • Poverty eradication and achievement of food security (including both availability and affordability);
    • Establishment of stable and dynamic domestic, intra- and inter-regional, and international agricultural markets;
    • Enhancing productivity and competitiveness of African farmers and agricultural business entrepreneurs;
    • Africa becoming a net exporter of agricultural products;
    • Achieving an equitable distribution of wealth;
    • Africa being a strategic player in agricultural biodiversity management and development through the application of science and innovation;
    • Africa taking the lead in the application of practices that conserve and sustain the natural resources used in agriculture;
    • Ensuring an environment that is conducive for the development and expanded activity of the private sector, with a particular emphasis on the development of domestic entrepreneurs;
    • Promoting and substantially increasing foreign direct investment and trade, with a particular emphasis on exports of high-value products;
    • Developing micro, small and medium agricultural and agriculture-related enterprises, including in the 'informal' sector.

    The NEPAD strategy recognizes that expansion of the agricultural land area will continue to be a component of agricultural development strategies. The plans and strategies of national agricultural research systems and the subregional organizations, however, emphasize the need for increased land and labour productivity. Each of these goals imply very different agricultural and land-use strategies. This fact illustrates the need for more clarity in sectoral R&D strategies, priorities and policies. The critical elements of these frameworks would include (a) the role and contribution of agriculture in the overall national economic and social development strategy; (b) the importance given to science and technology in agricultural development; and (c) concrete suggestions for improvements in the investment
    and organization of agricultural S&T research, extension, information and technology exchange systems, and primary, secondary and continuous education systems.

    To achieve the above would be a daunting task in any country. However, the Study Panel believes that African and international capacities are sufficient to undertake these reviews and ensure the articulation of policies, strategies and implementation plans for the advancement of science and technology and, more importantly, for the development of impact-orientated institutions.

    A Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) has been formulated under the auspices of NEPAD through dialogue and debate among Africa's agricultural researchers, policy makers and the international community. FARA is poised to become the focal point for the NEPAD agricultural research strategy under the CAADP. The four priorities
    of CAADP are:

    • Extending the area under sustainable land management and reliable water control systems;
    • Improving rural infrastructure and trade-related capacities for market access;
    • Increasing food supply and reducing hunger; and
    • Expanding agricultural research, technology dissemination and adoption.

    The fourth priority of the CAADP is derived from the Vision for African Agricultural Research (SPAAR/FARA, 1999), which suggests that agricultural production should grow 6 percent annually to improve food security and reduce food imports while producing the necessary surplus for an agriculture-led industrialization. To achieve such an ambitious growth in agricultural output a broad range of measures are needed, including improvements in macro-economic and agricultural policies, development of markets, investments in rural infrastructure, education and health, as well as improvements and additional investments in the generation, dissemination and adoption of new technology. A target is also set to double investments in agricultural research investments in 10 years time.

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