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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  • Coordination Through an Integrated Systems Approach

    Most well-trained agriculturalists have the intellectual capital that allows them to move between research, education and extension functions. Moreover, experience shows that each of these elements must be effective and interlinked for the agricultural sector to move forward. Specialists in institution-building have recommended a systems approach to coordinating and sequencing interlinked investments in agriculture's three pillars (research, extension and education). This approach has been variously called an agricultural knowledge system (Roling, 1988), an agricultural knowledge information system (FAO and the World Bank, 2000) and the agricultural knowledge triangle (Eicher, 1999). The Study Panel goes one step further and advocates a knowledge quadrangle, where linkages to farmers are given much greater prominence.

    The development and diffusion of new technology is critically dependent upon the coordinated, cumulative performance of research, education and extension. Since the functions represent complementary investments, they should be planned and sequenced as a system rather than as separate activities. Also, since they are risky investments with long-term payoffs, the government is usually the main investor in all three pillars at early stages of economic development. Government investments in research produce public goods such as new technologies that generate spillovers and bring benefit to more than one socio-economic group now and in future generations. Thus a systems approach is needed to pragmatically craft agricultural knowledge systems that promote communication, interaction and cooperation between agricultural higher education, research, extension and the farmers.

    Despite this logic, most donors in Africa have persisted in pursuing a pillar-by-pillar approach to strengthening rural institutions. Why? A former extension specialist in the World Bank states (Venkatesan, 1991):

    "The Bank's involvement with the development of higher agricultural education at the university level in Africa has been minimal . . . within the Bank, the agricultural divisions have no responsibility for universities, which are the responsibility of the education divisions . . . it is not therefore surprising that the Bank projects in extension and research do not provide support to higher agricultural education."

    The World Bank made only three agricultural higher education loans in Sub-Saharan Africa from 1987 to 1997 (Willett, 1998). Nevertheless, the World Bank prides itself as being a 'knowledge organization.' The Bank may need to take steps to shore up its credibility on the issue.

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