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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  • Beyond Research to Knowledge and Innovation

    Because of a greater emphasis on impact in general (and that on poverty, hunger and malnutrition in particular), the analytical perspective in S&T strategies has shifted during the past decade from agricultural research (the NARs perspective) to agricultural knowledge and information systems, to national innovation systems. While each of the three system concepts has its own strengths and weaknesses, they can be seen as interlinked. The NARS concept focuses on the generation of knowledge; the second concept on the generation and diffusion of knowledge, and the latter concept on the generation, diffusion and application of knowledge.

    The third perspective comprises a far broader set of actors than the traditional agricultural research, extension and education agencies. Innovation takes place throughout the whole economic process and not all innovations have their origin only in formal science and technology. This new perspective places more emphasis on the role of farmers, input suppliers, transporters and processors in the innovation process. It rejects the traditional linear model of the research-extension-farmer linkage, which is highlighted by the apparent failure of the Training and Visit system in Africa and India.

    A new paradigm is called for which recognizes there is a need for a process of generation and diffusion of knowledge, with active stakeholder participation, management and perhaps ownership (i.e., privatizing research and extension systems). Case studies now exist in the Agricultural Research Institute of Senegal (ISRA) and the Tea Research Institute of Tanzania (TRIT). The national agricultural research systems are no longer seen as the epicentres of innovation but as one of its various sources. Knowledge and information may spill into the innovation system from other sources than the national agricultural research systems, and, perhaps even more crucially, knowledge and information may emerge outside the realm of formal research because of on-farm as well as off-farm learning (up and down the agricultural production chain) by doing, using, or interacting. This third perspective, as part of a new strategy for agricultural research and development in Africa, attracts the Study Panel.

    It makes good sense to design a system that embraces the participatory knowledge quadrangle (PKQ), combining farmers, research, education and extension rather than investing in one pillar at a time. Numerous studies have shown that the pay-off to investment in agricultural research, extension, or agricultural higher education in a specific core agricultural institution will be higher if the investments are coordinated and sequenced. In practice this means designing an organizational structure that facilitates 'connectivity' between the complementary institutions and a reward structure that encourages managers, scientist and academicians to communicate and cooperate with each other (even when the managers report to different ministries) and foster linkages with farmers.

    To be effective, the national innovation system paradigm will require major investments in information and communication technologies, along with a change in university curricula and in the role and relationships between NARIs, extension systems and universities (Box 5.4). At present extension systems have little linkage with either NARIs or universities in most African countries. The 'farmer-research-education-extension quadrangle' is the foundation for the future, to build an integrated national agricultural research, education and extension system (NAREES) that involves and empowers smallholder farmers. After all, the collective goal of such a system is to increase agricultural productivity and benefit all members of society through lower food prices, food security, income generation and employment (Bonnen, 1998).

    Electronic Delivery of Agricultural Information to Rural Communities in Uganda aims to package and deliver appropriate information to farming communities through existing telecentres in various cities. Such information includes farm stock prices, weather reports, early warning of pests and diseases, market information, new technologies, sources of credit and training. It is expected to revolutionize information exchange between extension workers, farmers, community-based and nongovernmental organizations, unions and cooperatives.

    There is a need for pilot programs in the institutional innovations implied by the framework of the participatory knowledge quadrangle to explore the most effective ways to implement them. This will differ among countries. Here again there is a potential role for ISNAR in distilling from the experiences of others, such as those cited in Boxes 5.2 and 5.3, in action research to provide best practice guidelines.

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