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.
Graduate education in developed-country universities provides an opportunity for young Africans to connect with world-class institutions and faculties, to work in well-equipped libraries and laboratories and to establish professional networks with global reach and career-long impact. But such opportunities also establish bridges that draw trained Africans to employment out of Africa. The magnitude and potential impacts of those flows are substantial and appear to be increasing over time.
It is estimated that during 1960-1974 approximately 1,800 skilled Africans emigrated annually in search of foreign employment opportunities (Saint, 1992). This rose to 4,400 from 1975 to 1984 and further to approximately 23,000 in 1987. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimates that approximately 30 percent of all highly trained Africans currently reside outside Africa.
The starting point for any situational analysis is to acknowledge that there is a global market for advanced human capital-financial incentives, professional satisfaction, and opportunities to be scientifically productive are central to the migration of talent. Carl Eicher (2003) has observed from 40 years of work in Africa that once African nations experience a major exodus of 10,000 or more scientists, managers and teachers following a civil war, coup d'etat or decades of economic stagnation (as has occurred in Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, and Somalia), it is very difficult to attract any substantial number to return home while their country of birth remains at a low-income status.
History adds a valuable perspective on the relationship between postgraduate training and incentives, the brain drain and capacity building in developing countries. Successful institution-building experience in Brazil, Chile, China, India and Malaysia over the past 30 years enabled these countries to attract young scientists on overseas graduate training programs back home to pursue careers in the core agricultural institutions and the private sector. They were drawn by a scientific infrastructure that included post-degree networking, mentoring, access to the global scientific literature, availability of competitive research grants, sabbatical leave and participation in on-going national and regional workshops on development policy, management and research topics (BIFAD, 2003).
Buoyed by the success of India and China in enticing nationals to return home permanently to pursue scientific and managerial positions, a number of observers have posed the question: Can senior African agricultural professionals be encouraged to return to Africa and help fill the human capital gap? In short, can Africa regain its scientists? The sharp cutback in long-term technical assistance from the North in the 1980s has been followed by a number of innovative programs through which professional members of the African Diaspora take consultancies providing short-term technical assistance in Africa. One such initiative is TOKTEN (Transfer of Knowledge Through Expatriate Nationals), a project of the United Nations Development Programme. This has had limited success as it evokes more envy on the part of erstwhile colleagues rather than a desire to emulate.
A number of African scientists have organized global networks to mobilize African scientists living overseas to return to their home university and offer short courses and help mobilize funds. For example, Ethiopia has developed a global network of Ethiopian scholars who are living in the Diaspora (GNEST, 2003). Likewise, Friends of Njala University College in Sierra Leone is a network of Africans and non-Africans who are helping to rebuild the scientific infrastructure at Njala. But these are primarily short-term assignments and do not achieve a full recapture of human capital lost to the brain drain.
It seems clear the only effective and sustainable approach is to make agricultural science and agribusiness more personally and professionally attractive, and indeed more closely competitive with global opportunities. It is more realistic to lure back young African scientists rather than to expect senior academics and researchers to leave the Diaspora and return permanently to Africa. It is even more desirable to focus instead on preventing the next generation of scientists from migrating in search of a more professionally and personally rewarding career. But both political and scientific leadership are needed to support the development of an attractive package of monetary and non-monetary incentives to encourage young scientists to remain home. Start-up research grants and rapid career advancement are key components of a strategy to prevent future brain drain. Can this be done in Africa? Case studies in Brazil, China, Malaysia and more recently in Mozambique suggest that it is possible if there is political commitment to agriculture, adequate resources and imagination.
In the consultative workshops, the Study Panel heard pleas from scientists for greater recognition and encouragement of their profession by the community and governments. There was a sense in which they viewed the enhanced prestige this would generate as equal to, if not more important than, increasingly attractive financial rewards, in order for scientists to fully express their own potentials and contribute to Africa's development.