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.
Changes described above have occurred during a period in which parallel efforts were under way to link university academic staff (with advanced degrees) with scientists in national agricultural research institutes to work together on problems of mutual interest (Michelsen et al., 2003). This has arisen because universities often have more PhDs in agriculture than the government research system - in 1995, for example, universities employed around 550 African scientists with PhDs in agriculture while the national agricultural research systems (NARs) in Eastern and Southern Africa employed around 360 (Mrema, 1997).
Despite their numbers, university-based scientists conduct a minor share of public research - in 1991 universities reported only 10 percent of public agricultural research and development (R&D), compared with 43 percent in Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries; and a majority of African faculties spend less than 20 percent of their time on research (Beintema et al., 1998). The universities have desire as well as a latent potential to become major players in agricultural research and development if the appropriate incentive and reward systems are created to attract and retain young academics.
In order to increase the ability of university scholars to carry out research, Competitive Grant Schemes are now in operation in World Bank-financed projects in countries such as Ghana, Kenya and Malawi (Echeverria and Elliott, 2002). However, these funding schemes are often oversold and they are difficult to administer in small countries. There have also been many problems in the NARS-university relationship: conflict and misunderstanding are commonly reported between the strong (NARS) and the weak (faculties of agriculture) (Castillo, 1997). An African professor recently summed up the NARS-university relationship as follows, 'At present, academics and NARS staff view each other as competitors.'