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.
African agriculture holds much promise and potential. This report addresses the question of how science and technology can be mobilized to make that promise come true.
Africa is a continent rich in natural and human resources. Africa is a land full of promise and potential, where more than 900 million people live and work and raise their families - two-thirds of them in small towns and villages scattered throughout rain forests, deserts, and immense grasslands that stretch from coast to coast. Yet it is also a place where, because of famine, disease and growing populations, almost 200 million people are undernourished and 33 million children go to sleep malnourished and hungry every night.
How can the best of science and technology be harnessed to help Africa increase its agricultural productivity, profitability and sustainability, thereby contributing to improved food security for all? How, precisely, can we produce higher crop yields and more nutritious foods from thinning soils, making food both affordable and accessible to increasing numbers of people? What are the larger socio-economic and political conditions necessary for the effective use of science and technology in both the public and private sectors?
To answer these questions, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan requested that the InterAcademy Council (IAC) engage leading scientific, economic, and technological experts from around the world - but primarily from Africa - to identify how best to realize the promise and potential of African agriculture. This report is the result. Written by the IAC Panel on Agricultural Productivity in Africa, it details a number of concrete steps that the scientific community - working closely with farmers, governments and industry - can take to avert the risk of famine and relieve human suffering for millions of Africans in the years ahead.
The focus of this report is on embracing science and technology not simply to produce a substantial increase in agricultural productivity, but also to ensure that the families of Africa become food secure and obtain the full range of nutrients that they need every day.
Widespread food insecurity exists throughout Africa.
Food security means far more than having sufficient food to meet human needs on a national basis. In fact, food security often has less to do with food availability than with access to food. Access is a hugely elusive and complex problem, a problem complicated not only by low family incomes, but also by lack of roads and the distribution infrastructure needed to move food swiftly from place to place. Other important factors include access to safe drinking water, primary health care and environmental hygiene - all of which play a key role in maintaining good health and reducing the intestinal infections that can negate the benefits of a nutritious diet.
More than 60 percent of malnourished Africans live in Eastern Africa, with more than half of the populations in the Congo Democratic Republic and Mozambique affected. Similarly, Angola, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia show malnutrition prevalence rates between 40 and 50 percent.
On the other hand, West Africa as a whole has countered the trend in the rest of the continent, with its malnutrition falling dramatically in recent years. This good news shows that, with a concerted effort, movement away from hunger and an inadequate diet is possible. The nations that have made the progress are Benin, Ghana and Nigeria. Nigeria's prevalence rate is low, but because of its large population, the country nevertheless accounts for 22 percent of the food impoverished poor in West and Central Africa.
The IAC Panel envisions an African future where increased agricultural productivity, improved food security and an enhanced sustainability of agro-ecosystems can be achieved. Agricultural research and development investments are among the most crucial determinants of agricultural productivity. The near stagnant economies in parts of Africa are, to a large extent, a reflection of a stagnant agriculture. Science and technology can directly contribute to food security not only by the introduction of improved crops and cropping practices, labour-saving technologies, and better communications - but also through an improved quality of food storage, processing, packaging and marketing.
African agriculture has a unique set of features that make it very different from Asia, where the Green Revolution has had a pervasive impact. These include:
In contrast to Asia - where irrigated rice-wheat systems predominate and thus where improved rice and wheat varieties could make a major difference - the diverse African situation implies that no single magic 'technological bullet' is available for radically improving African agriculture. A comprehensive set of strategies will thus be necessary in Africa for the effective harnessing of science and technology to meet human needs. As a consequence, more investment in a wider range of agricultural research and development will be required in Africa than was the case in Asia.
The IAC Panel concludes that African agriculture will require numerous 'rainbow evolutions' that differ in both nature and extent among the many different types of farming systems and institutions throughout Africa - rather than a single Green Revolution.
African farmers pursue a wide range of farming systems that vary both across and within the major agro-ecological zones of Africa. Agro-ecological zones are land regions sharing similar combinations of soil, landform and climatic characteristics. The particular parameters used in the definition of these zones focus attention on the climatic and soil-related requirements of crops and on the management systems under which the crops are grown. A farming system is a population of crop and livestock enterprises that share similar patterns of farm activities and household livelihoods, including their degree of crop-livestock integration and their scale. Unlike other regions of the world where food production and food security are based primarily on a limited number of farming systems, in Africa these depend on multiple farming systems in a wide array of different agro-ecological zones. Diversity is the norm in African farming systems throughout the continent. At the level of the individual farm unit, farmers diversify further, typically growing 10 or more crops. Seventeen distinct farming systems are identified in Africa: maize-mixed, cereal/root crop mixed, root crop, agro-pastoral millet/sorghum, highland perennial, forest based, highland temperate mixed, pastoral, tree crop, commercial-largeholder and small-holder, coastal artisanal fishing, irrigated, rice/tree crop, sparse agriculture (arid), urban based, highland mixed, and rainfed mixed. Most of these African farming systems are characterized by weathered soils of low inherent fertility and high fragility, by a declining soil fertility due to population growth and a minimal use of external inputs, and by highly variable rainfall - especially in the drier rainfed systems. For the foreseeable future, multiple farming systems must become more productive to generate the increases in food necessary to feed the hungry in Africa.
The IAC Panel concludes that, because of the many farming systems used to feed Africa, regionally mediated, rather than continent-wide strategies, will be required to address the diverse problems of African food productivity and food security.
Four farming systems show the most promise for increasing African food security. Given the situation described above, the question arises as to how to determine which farming systems, among so many, could potentially contribute the most to increased agricultural productivity and improved food security in Africa. To answer this question, the IAC Panel has used two main indicators - the extent of malnutrition among children and the economic value of agricultural production - to assess the potential of each African farming system for meeting these goals.
The first indicator reflects the extent of the malnutrition that needs to be overcome to achieve food security. The second indicator gauges the potential for agricultural productivity gains to generate increased real incomes for farmers and consumers. The greater the malnutrition, the more the productivity gains will benefit those most in need of improved food and nutrition security. A system is considered a priority system if both the production/ productivity potential and the extent of malnutrition are high.
Based on this analysis, the IAC Panel concludes that the following four African farming systems have the greatest potential for reducing malnutrition and improving agricultural productivity:
A production ecological approach can identify problems and the potential solutions for increasing agricultural productivity in priority farming systems. Science does more than simply breed new crops for farmers to use. Science is also needed to understand what is happening in the fields, making it possible to remedy the problems that arise. For each of the four priority farming systems selected by the IAC Panel, there are many technological opportunities for enhancing productivity and profitability on an environmentally sustainable basis. A production ecological approach examines the factors defining, limiting and reducing crop yield, as well as those that interrupt the distribution of foods after they have been grown. This approach allows for a comprehensive identification and prioritizing of agro-ecological constraints, thereby identifying the most promising technological opportunities for improvement.
These opportunities can be categorized according to their effects on four classes of factors:
The IAC Panel concludes that, in harnessing science to increase the productivity of African agriculture, the application of a production ecological approach will be critical for identifying both problems and their potential solutions.
The correct and diligent application of a range of technology options can increase crop and animal production, while making more effective and efficient use of land, labour and capital. Improving agricultural productivity and food security in Africa will require a number of different approaches. These range from production developments focused on removing constraints in priority farming systems, to yield gap analyses for many of Africa's crops, to an emphasis on the mechanisms for adapting technologies to farmers' needs.
The IAC Panel is encouraged by the availability of technology options and the experience with their application in some African farming systems. There are ample opportunities to bridge yield gaps and increase productivity. But to do this will require a systematic fine-tuning of the technology options to improve adoption.
There are many documented examples of successful productivity-enhancing innovations. The challenges are both to scale them up and to develop new options for the future. For example, African agriculture should derive maximum benefit from both conventional plant breeding and biotechnology. Rapid developments in information and communication technologies - such as the Internet, the World Wide Web, and cellular telephones - also provide important new opportunities for improving agricultural productivity and food security in Africa. Information technology has also stimulated the development of comprehensive computation models, such as models of crop and animal growth. New mapping technologies provide important information for African farmers, scientists, and policy makers. Tools such as geographic information systems (GIS), global positioning system (GPS) and thematic maps of seasonal movements of livestock reinforce the identification of relevant know-how. Such mapping techniques, for example, can help to identify land boundaries, establishing the land ownership or tenure necessary for obtaining credit for agricultural investments.The IAC Panel suggests the desirability of establishing African centres of agricultural research excellence (ACARE) to undertake basic research leading to the development and use of these and other novel new technologies for improving African agriculture. Such centres should be designed to provide a source of new ideas and methods for national agricultural research systems.
It must be emphasized that the application of science and technology alone will not have a significant impact on improving productivity or on reducing the numbers of food insecure. There are complementary investments and policies that will also be required to achieve sustainable productivity growth and reduce food and nutrition insecurity. These include fair, competitive and efficient markets, revitalization of the private sector, improved governance, investments in sanitation, drinking water and health services, and broad policy and institutional innovation to create the enabling conditions for science and technology to express their potential at local, national, regional and global levels.
The IAC Panel recommends the following actions for improving agricultural productivity and food security in Africa through science and technology strategies:
More effective institutions in Africa are required to improve agricultural productivity and food security. As emphasized and explained in the first report from the InterAcademy Council, Inventing a better future: A strategy for building worldwide capacities in science and technology, 'science and engineering advance largely at 'centers of excellence' - physical locations where research and advanced training are carried out, often in collaboration with other centers, institutions, and individuals. Centers of excellence are the key to innovation, and their importance cannot be overestimated. For the science and technology capacities of developing countries to grow, therefore, they too should have centers of excellence - whether of local, national, regional, or international status. These centers of excellence do not necessarily have to be created de novo. The bolstering or reform of a country's most promising existing R&D programs can achieve the desired outcome. A key to promoting excellence is a merit-based allocation of resources based on rigorous review, both in deciding on new research projects and evaluating current programs. Given the relatively modest scientific capacity of most developing nations, such reviews should ideally include appropriate experts from other nations.'
Scientific and technological institutions in Africa are predominantly public, with the private sector playing a minimal role until now. The national agricultural research systems in Africa have been undergoing reforms to make them more responsive and effective. Institutional innovations designed to strengthen these systems currently are being explored.
The IAC Panel examined the current status of agricultural research and development institutions throughout Africa, and it has attempted to evaluate the various trends in their evolution and to diagnose the challenges they face. A number of strategies and priorities are desirable from the international level down to the local level. The IAC Panel noted that one of the greatest challenges is the need to make agricultural research more client oriented and client driven through the participation of farmers and other stakeholders, at the same time struggling with the realities that, among the poorest farmers - subsistence farmers, for example - such involvement is unlikely to come soon. However, all agricultural research institutions, whether based in universities or in independent centres, must develop close working relationships with farmers to create the feedback mechanisms that are essential for analyzing problems and finding appropriate solutions.
At the subregional level, Africa needs more effective agricultural research networking that defines a common research agenda, shares research tasks according to institutional comparative advantage and ensures efficient and equitable sharing of research results across participating countries. Where there are priority research gaps and/or where there would be major efficiency gains by grouping resources institutionally, African centres of agricultural research excellence should be created to address strategic continental, regional and sub-regional priorities. Wherever possible, these centres of agricultural research excellence should evolve from and build upon existing national agricultural research systems, international agricultural research centres and university programs, rather than creating another layer of institutions.
International agricultural research centres (IARCS) with headquarters and/or programs in Africa should retain their international identities, but operate in more collaborative and complementary modes with national agricultural research systems and universities in Africa, as well as in participatory partnerships with farmers, consumers and the private sector. They should immediately integrate their programs at the operational level in consortia within specific agro-ecological regions. In this manner, they will be more responsive to African priorities and ensure a critical mass of research personnel to exploit economies and synergies. Strategies to achieve such full institutional integration should be explored by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) as a matter of priority. Agricultural extension services that link timely agricultural research directly to farmers is currently moribund in many African nations. Kenya, for example, has 12,000 extension agents, but no funds to buy petrol for motorbikes. There is a need for more research on the future of extension systems in Africa. The new International Service for National Agricultural Research Division of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) can be especially helpful in designing best practice options for the future.
The IAC Panel believes that Africa deserves a dramatic and sustained increase in the resources devoted to agricultural research and development. Higher salaries are needed for scientists. That said, however, good scientists value other aspects of their work in addition to competitive salaries. Social prestige and recognition, for example, and a working atmosphere in an institution that values merit and innovation are equally important. Above all, impact-oriented research organizations need visionary leaders to inspire and nurture their team to achieve great goals.
Nurturing good scientists through merit-based selection systems that create and maintain strong, quality institutions must become one of the highest priorities of governments, if they are to bring the benefits of modern science and technology to their farming and rural communities. Unless the above features are built into the design of a national agricultural research system, its impact will be low and it will neither attract nor retain gifted scientists.
The IAC Panel recommends the following actions for building impact-oriented research, knowledge and development institutions:
African nations must create and retain a new generation of agricultural scientists. Great strides have been made in increasing the number of universities in Africa and the number of students enrolled. Universities throughout the continent, however, are facing severe financial problems, coupled with a decline in the quality of the educational experience. At the same time, many senior academics are leaving the university to go into the private sector or to attractive international positions. This brain drain has crippled many African universities that are urgently struggling to build master's and doctoral programs. Senior scholars are needed desperately in the halls of academia.
Meanwhile, out in the field, the first generation of African agriculturalists has retired and their successors are becoming demoralized by the poor conditions of service and the low return rate from overseas of many young academics.
At the primary and secondary school levels, science education is given little emphasis and education is weak. Most schools lack even rudimentary libraries and science laboratories, not to mention teachers who know enough about science to teach it well. And access to computers is minimal. Few secondary school graduates go on to the universities to train in the sciences, and those who do are poorly prepared. Women are discouraged from becoming scientists, especially agricultural scientists.
Science education, in short, is a huge problem in Africa. African governments, with support from development partners, must pursue strategies that create incentives and opportunities for scientists to stay and work in their countries. They must also invest more in science and technology at all levels of education, so as to create an attractive environment and demand for further science and technology education. Incentive and reward systems should encourage innovation and entrepreneurship in the agricultural sector.
The private sector must contribute to agricultural research and support higher education. The curriculum must be flexible, market driven and more holistic, incorporating aspects of sensitivity to the environment and sustainability, natural and social science, information technology and entrepreneurship. It must produce scientists with commitment to life-long learning.
The IAC Panel recommends the following actions for creating and retaining a new generation of agricultural scientists:
A vibrant market economy and effective economic policies are essential in making poor families income and food secure. If a market-driven agricultural productivity recovery is to be successful, improved governance, market access, information, communications, and transport will be vital complements to the science and technology thus far described. Creating an effective policy environment - one that is capable of exploiting the potential that science and technology offer - will require innovative ways to engage small farmers so that they become better informed and more active participants in markets, policy processes, and priority setting in agricultural research and development.
African countries need an increased capability to address product quality and to comply with bio-safety standards and other regulatory regimes. They also need the skills to negotiate effectively with the member nations of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Only then will the private sector express its unrealized potential to contribute to the agricultural productivity recovery.
Governments need to increase investments in infrastructure such as roads, information and communications technologies, storage, and post-harvest technologies. Appropriate grading standards for agricultural products, as well as sufficient sanitary and phytosanitary regulations, must be in place and enforced. Unless this is done, the private sector will continue to languish. Regional cooperation is required to remove formal and informal barriers to trade, strengthen the contract system, establish food quality and food safety standards and regulations, and increase research capacity in all these areas. Such cooperation can promote interregional trade within Africa and widen international market opportunities, which can provide a floor to commodity prices as agricultural productivity and marketable surpluses increase. National, regional, continental, and international markets should be competitive, free and fair for African farmers and consumers.
There is a need in Africa to institute appropriate intellectual property systems that optimize access to external intellectual property and incentives to attract foreign investment, while creating and protecting both incentives for local innovation and the value of local resources.
The IAC Panel recommends the following actions for enhancing the role of markets and policies in making poor families income and food secure:
The choices identified in the four strategic themes described above have to be implemented and made operational in the various regions of Africa. To demonstrate the required activities of the various stakeholders in the regions, innovative new participatory science and technology pilot programs should be introduced in each of the four priority farming systems identified by the IAC Panel. Many technological opportunities exist for enhancing productivity and profitability on a sustainable basis. Enhancing productivity in these systems will reap positive consequences in improving the nutrition of a high percentage of starving children, including those who are among the most malnourished on the continent.
The IAC Panel believes that a set of such pilot programs will be needed to unleash the latent agricultural productivity in Africa, leading to an enhancement of family food supply and income security. These experimental programs can serve as inspiring illustrations of the potential of the African agriculture system. The United Nations Secretary-General, in consultation with the African Union, should identify the most appropriate regional, national and international institutions to implement the recommended innovative science and technology pilot programs, which are designed to shape Africa's agricultural future. It is crucial that there be strong African involvement at every step.
The IAC Panel recommends the following action for initiating a series of innovative pilot programs for enhancing African agriculture:
The IAC Panel suggests that interdisciplinary teams from the quadrangle of national agricultural research systems, universities, extension services and farmers' organizations be constituted to prepare business plans for policy changes and research in each of the four priority farming systems described previously. Nothing succeeds like success, and hence the sites for the initial pilot programs should be developed where there is a socioeconomic, political, scientific and ecological environment conducive to the achievement of the goals of this program. For each pilot program, a local farmers' advisory council, involving both men and women, should be constituted to assume ownership and undertake monitoring and evaluation.
The IAC Panel affirms its vision of an African future where increased agricultural productivity, improved food security and enhanced sustainability of agro-ecosystems will have been realized. The IAC Panel cautions, however, that this vision is achievable only by effective collaboration among the scientific community, farmers, governments, nongovernmental organizations, the international donor community and the private sector.
Five underlying strategic themes should guide the future of agricultural research and development in Africa towards 2015. The first theme is the identification of science and technology options that can make a difference. The full complement of available technologies should be explored, from conventionally bred plants to genetically modified plants, from chemical fertilizers to organic fertilizers, and from integrated pest, soil and nutrient management to irrigation. A second theme to guide the future is to build impact-oriented research, knowledge and development institutions that reflect the needs of the local farmers in identifying new avenues of research. This goal is best accomplished by involving farmers, who very clearly understand the problems. The third theme is creating and retaining a new generation of agricultural scientists to perform future research. The fourth theme is ensuring markets and policies that make the poor prosperous and food secure. The final theme is the need for experimentation in creating effective solutions to the problems of African agriculture, especially those that empower the farmers in Africa to make decisions about their own crops and their own livelihoods.