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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  • Renewal

    The period of retrenchment and decline in funding in the late 1980s and 1990s was followed by an unexpected renewal phase initiated by a half dozen African universities. University reforms included the admission of private fee-paying students, permission for faculty members to retain a share of incomes generated from private consulting income, the introduction of night classes and private universities, and the adoption of information and communications technology (ICT) for class work and university administration (Court, 1999).

    But these reforms did not take place in a vacuum. Rather they were a product of larger political and social reforms. Uganda and Kenya are prime examples, where new leadership is propelling a democratic transition in the State House and beyond (Lynam, 2003). For example at Makerere University in Uganda the Innovation at Makerere program, better known as I@mak.org, is reorganizing its academic programs to contribute directly and immediately to national development within the framework of the government's decentralization process. It aims to train cohorts of public servants in health, agriculture and administration, to staff district offices. It is achieving this through major changes in curriculum and through 'sandwich training' programs whereby students undertake fieldwork in the districts throughout their academic training.

    In response, many donors have rediscovered universities. The World Bank is a prime example. For several decades the Bank has given priority to investments in primary education, but its new leadership in human resources has warmly embraced investments in higher education, outlined in its new book Constructing Knowledge Societies: New Challenges for Tertiary Education (World Bank, 2002). Finally, a new USAID global initiative has recently been introduced to increase the number of scholarships for postgraduate study in agriculture in the United States and capacity-building grants to rebuild university faculties of agriculture in developing countries (BIFAD, 2003).

    Four U.S. foundations have played a critical role in supporting the renewal phase of African higher education. In 2000, the Rockefeller, Ford, Carnegie and MacArthur Foundations launched The Partnership for Higher Education in Africa. With a 10-year time frame, the foundations have committed US$100 million over the first five years to support universities pursuing reforms in Ghana, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. During the first two years (2000-01), the four foundations together contributed us$62 million to higher education in six African countries.

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