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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  • Science and Technology Strategies

    Constraints and opportunities

    • Soil, water and fertility management represent key natural resources constraints; addressing these will require local, national and regional research and/or policy interventions, depending on the nature and extent of the particular constraints.
    • Loss of genetic diversity of wild and domesticated flora and fauna requires enhanced conservation strategies, community participation, application of biotechnology, and capacity building.
    • Sustainable food security is jeopardized by health issues, such as poor nutrition and/or diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB, leading to loss of human capital among farmers, scientists and their families.
    • The relative economic and environmental merits of large-scale compared to small-scale irrigation development remains an open question, and an appropriate strategy for irrigation development in the various agro-ecological zones of Africa is unclear.
    • Is there sufficient agricultural technology 'on-the-shelf' to increase agricultural productivity if only the policy regimes and infrastructure were conducive to adoption, or is more innovative research needed to identify viable productivity-enhancing technology options for the complex diversified agricultural systems of Africa?
    • Should Africa embrace genetically modified organisms (GMOS) and the associated biosafety protocols, as a desirable component of a strategy that aims to substantially improve productivity potentials of the major food and commercial crops and livestock species?

    Markets

    • There is a need to adopt a proactive regional approach both to participation in the establishment of quality and phytosanitary standards associated with access to markets of OECD countries and in international conventions (desertification, climate change and biodiversity).
    • The lack of an effective intellectual property rights regime especially hampers R&D activities of the private sector and reduces investment by both national and international firms.

    Capacity

    • Weak and/or non-existent national academies of science and professional associations reduce the influence of scientists in the formulation of S&T strategies and policies and the mobilization of resources for agricultural research and development.

    Planning and incentives

    • There is a need to articulate more coherently national S&T strategies and policies that integrate across sectors. Subregional organizations are reluctant and/or unable to enter into the political arena in a more proactive manner to influence the strategies of governments in ways that accord higher priority to agricultural research and development.
    • Better incentives and mechanisms are needed to identify viable indigenous technologies and commercialize them; this relates to the issue of farmers' rights, which can be promoted through farmer education and farmers' schools.
    • The proposed increase in the extent of competitive grant funding is exacerbating the tensions among the various components of the national agricultural research systems: universities versus national agricultural research institutes; central versus zonal institutions; and strategic research versus applied/adaptive/participatory research. This encourages the research institutions to be competitors rather than partners.
    • Universities need to become incubators for operational institutions such as agricultural enterprises and conservation organizations, and focal points for integration of national S&T activities with the changing global institutional ecology; they need to pursue academic excellence alongside an entrepreneurial orientation.
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