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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  • Conclusions

    Reforms

    The guiding principles for African agricultural R&D institutions should be productivity, profitability and sustainability. These principles should apply both to the conduct of the institutions and to programs for smallholders. To quote the former Chairman of FARA, Professor Joseph Mukiibi, in his farewell statement at the FARA Plenary in Dakar Senegal in May 2003, 'Many African farmers and livestock keepers may be poor but they wish to be prosperous. The focus of institutions that serve them therefore must be on prosperity and not poverty. Prosperity-enhancement R&D action programs have to involve the whole production-to-market continuum.'

    The Study Panel is of the view that the current NARS reforms are a positive step forward in making agricultural research organizations more client oriented and demand driven, thus potentially enhancing the impact of agricultural research on agricultural productivity. They characteristically now depend on the participation of a broader set of actors, in comparison to the more inward-looking reforms of the 1980s and 1990s.

    Involving farmer organizations and other stakeholders more closely in the governance, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of agricultural research requires the building of strong links among these various partners. However, some realism is needed regarding the relative strength of these partners and their ability to participate. The more advanced forms of 'farmer participation' can fail because farmers are not sufficiently organized and because a more client-oriented and demand-driven agricultural research system needs to be matched by clients and stakeholders who can articulate their demand for new technology. International, regional and intergovernmental agencies must play a catalytic role in promoting the reforms proposed here. Research institutions like ISNAR can help inform and guide these developments by action research to synthesize experience into best practice guidelines.

    Increased resources

    The Study Panel is convinced that Africa deserves a dramatic and sustained increase in the resources devoted to agricultural research and development. It therefore recommends that the expenditure on agricultural research as a proportion of AgGDP rise to at least 1.5 percent by 2015. This would represent a doubling of current average research intensity levels. These added resources should mostly be allocated to strengthening national agricultural research systems. They are below critical mass in key areas, even in the large national agricultural research systems. For the smaller national agricultural research system, strengthening at subregional levels deserves a higher priority. Only strong national agricultural research systems will receive full benefit of complementary activity with the international advanced research centres and advanced research institutions - which should not be viewed as substitutes for national agricultural research systems. The added funding would also provide the support for the evolution of ACARE.

    There are also national priorities that will not appear on the agenda of international advanced research centres and advanced research institutions, but still deserve the attention of the national agricultural research systems (e.g., teff in Ethiopia) and acare (e.g., game/wildlife). To be sustainable, much of the proposed increase in funding must come from African governments and not from the international donor community. In this respect, the Study Panel is concerned that the World Bank MAPP proposal only calls for 20 percent of the additional funding for African research to be derived from national sources in the first five years, rising to 50 percent in the last five. Donor dependency must cease in agricultural research and the coordination of donor support improved. NEPAD and FARA should play active roles here, with MAPP perhaps providing the vehicle to achieve this. The added resources should be devoted to human resource development. This could include improved conditions of service for scientists, with no more than 60 percent of the budget spent on personnel in order to ensure adequate operating funds and to provide for investments in integrative information and technology infrastructure to enhance connectivity and information exchange.

    A doubling of the intensity of the investments in agricultural research as a proportion of AgGDP in Africa towards 2015, as recommended by the Study Panel, would require an annual growth rate of dollar expenditures of around 11 percent. This is a rather ambitious goal for most African countries, compared with their experience during the past 10-20 years (with an average growth of about 1 percent per annum). However, it is not exceptionally high in comparison to growth rates of agricultural research expenditures in Africa and elsewhere during the 1960s and 1970s (Pardey et al. 1991).

    A persistent growth rate of 11 percent annually in agricultural research expenditures may overstretch the absorptive capacity of agricultural research organizations somewhat, but not all of the increase in financial resources should be spent on an expansion of NARS and ACARE research capacities. In many countries, extremely low salary levels inhibit the effective operation of their agricultural research organizations. As an example, if salaries were to double in 12 years within the above 11 percent overall annual funding growth figure, this implies an annual growth in salaries of about 13 percent, while non-salary components would grow by 7 percent per year. This illustrates the scope to achieve both enhanced capacity and new incentive and reward structures.

    In general once salaries represent more than half of total research expenditures, scientists become constrained in operating funds for travel, supplies, capital equipment etc. Of course some countries already have research intensities well in excess of 1.5 percent and these average figures obscure the large variability in this measure of research intensity among African countries. Needless to say they also imply many countries have intensities well below 1.5 percent and there is a need to enhance their investments considerably. But as we already noted above, the biggest constraint is how African countries will mobilize this level of resources within their government budgets and from local stakeholder groups.

    The CGIAR Centres operating in and for Africa also deserve a substantial increase in their funding if they are to effectively complement the African national agricultural research systems. Their funding should increase by at least 5 percent per year to 2015, reaching an annual total of around US$235 million.

    Experience has shown that the stronger a national agricultural research system, the greater is the benefit the country derives from the research of international agricultural research centres and advanced research institutes. A national agricultural research system can become impact oriented if it is endowed with the following features:

    • A personnel policy which helps to attract and retain good scientists; such a policy in addition to providing scientists with the best available national salaries, should contain non-monetary but morale-building measures like linking authority with accountability, as well as facilities like housing, education for children and health care. More will be said about this in Chapter 6.
    • Forward linkages with government extension, credit and development agencies, as well as with private sector companies dealing with seeds, fertilizers and other essential inputs.
    • Backward linkages with farm men and women as well as with cooperatives and farmers' organizations through farmer participatory research and knowledge management systems.
    • Lateral linkages with other R&D institutions, universities, international advanced research centres, advanced research institutions, etc.

    For good scientists, salaries alone are not adequate to bring out their best. Social prestige and recognition, and a working atmosphere that values merit and innovation are equally important. Above all, impact-oriented research organizations need visionary leaders whose mission is to bring out the best in staff members. Such leaders should have ready access to ministers and heads of government/state. It would be appropriate to designate the chief scientist heading a national agricultural research system as the Principal Scientific Advisor to Government in the field of agricultural research, education and extension.

    Unless the above features are built into the design of a national agricultural research system, its impact will be low and it will neither attract nor retain gifted scientists. Breeding and nurturing good scientists should receive the highest priority from governments, if they are to bring the benefits of modern science and technology to the farming and rural communities.

    Scientific communities in Africa are (for the majority of the countries) small and limited in their capacity to generate new information and knowledge. When combined with the weakness of the educational system this represents a serious impediment for the adequate recruitment in numbers and quality of the human capital necessary to tackle the problems of having impact-oriented research, knowledge and development institutions. Governments of countries fitting this description need to understand that they must generate integrated actions in their educational systems before they will find long-term solutions to the problems of capacity building in the agricultural R&D institutions. More will be said about this in Chapter 6.

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