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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  • Funding Decline

    The university expansion phase from the 1960s to the mid-1980s was followed by a retrenchment of domestic and donor support to agriculture and to universities. Fiscal constraints since the mid-1980s accentuated by structural adjustment reforms and a shifting emphasis on primary and secondary education (as part of the 'basic human needs' approach) caused domestic funding for universities to stall and in some cases decline. Real spending per university student declined from US$6,300 in 1980 to US$1,500 in 1988 (Beintema et al.,1998). The number of books per student fell from 49 in 1979 to only 7 in 1988 (by way of comparison, the average number in U.S. universities is 78). During the same period, real faculty salaries fell by 30 percent and have continued to decline in most countries. In Nigeria, for example, university faculty salaries in 1991 were only 10 percent of their levels in 1978.

    At the same time donor funding was curtailed for students studying agriculture in the northern universities, a trend that continued into the 1990s. For example, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) postgraduate scholarships for developing-country students to study agriculture in the United States fell from 310 in 1990 to only 82 in 2000 (BIFAD, 2003). During the late 1980s and into the 1990s, numerous critics argued for downsizing of African universities. They also proposed that students should pay fees and universities should become more entrepreneurial to gain funding from the private sector (Saint, 1992).

    The critics also pointed out that the annual cost of higher education per student was substantially more in Africa than in Asia or Latin America. This led to intense political and policy debates throughout Africa on how to reduce the unit public cost of higher education (Birdsall, 1996). Critics cited a study by World Bank economist George Psacharopoulos (1994) that showed primary education in Africa generated a higher social rate of return to society than secondary and higher education. In short, during the 1990s African universities experienced a fall from grace, both at home and among donors (Saint, 1992).

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