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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  • Advocacy and Leadership

    It is not sufficient to have the agricultural science communities formulate strategies, plans and programs, if those to whom they are responsible do not accord them the priority they deserve. The Study Panel detected that in general, agricultural scientists were not providing the leadership and political advocacy that is required to move agriculture, and especially agricultural research and development, forward in Africa. They are too timid to advance either their own interests or the welfare of African agriculture. They may offer disillusionment and disincentive as excuses, and the Study Panel has some sympathy with that view. However, agricultural scientists need to adopt a more proactive, tenacious and innovative attitude, and should lobby their professional associations and academies of science to achieve the following:

    • African Union and Regional Economic Commissions. Agriculture should be included as a regular discussion point on their working agenda. Continental-level reports on the state of African food security and science can be discussed with a focus on assessment, based on established goals and a common set of indicators with respect to trends in agricultural growth and productivity and the national, regional and international levels of investment in agricultural research. The African Union and Commissions should ensure the establishment, appropriate staffing and functioning of the relevant units supporting agriculture, S&T policy coordination and management, and thus provide the high-level oversight proposed.
    • International advanced research centres. A stronger regional presence of the international advanced research centres is required in Africa with a minimum critical mass of senior scientists from all relevant divisions. This applies not only to the commodity improvement centres with headquarters out of Africa, but also centres like IFPRI, International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR) and International Plant Genetics Resources Institute (IPGRI). Indeed, the Study Panel supports the recent decision to merge ISNAR and IFPRI, especially towards a strengthened African program. The strategic approach of these institutes for engagement must be for a long-term embrace-and-sit approach, rather than the hit-and-run of the project mode that has been forced upon them in the last 10 years or so. This is going to require a return to more assured core funding, with international investors providing long-term institutional program support, which leverages incremental contributions from African governments and successful competitive funding applications.
    • International organizations. There is need to streamline and harmonize national agricultural and S&T data generation and management to facilitate the monitoring and evaluation required to assess the impact-orientation of R&D institutions. Specifically the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) should revise and upgrade information management systems for African countries to best practices such as those developed for the countries in transition. New methodologies and training programs will be required for area, yield and production estimations to cater for the diverse mixed intercropping complexities in African smallholder agricultural systems.
    • Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa. One role for FARA must be to provide leadership in establishing alternative financing mechanisms tailored to African priorities and strategies that will promote partnerships amongst the many stakeholders at all levels. FARA should be an advocate for agricultural research in Africa, serve as a credible source of information on regional priorities, programs, best practice and success stories; and facilitate intra-continental and international collaboration. It is encouraging that FARA is evolving to play such roles. International investors should recognize and support fara in its evolution as a strategic coordinating entity for the development of African agricultural research within the context of NEPAD.
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