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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  • 2. Building Impact-oriented Research, Knowledge and Development Institutions

    Recommendation 2.1: Design and invest in national agricultural science systems that involve farmers in education, research and extension

    A paradigm shift is needed towards an innovation, information, knowledge, and education quadrangle coalition in place of the outmoded linear and top-down research-extension-farmer-framework that has failed in Africa. Institutional arrangements to achieve this may differ from country to country and each must be encouraged to learn from its own experiences. There is a need to start from the bottom up in developing rural knowledge systems and institutions using participatory methods. There is also a need for substituting traditional extension systems with farmer participatory knowledge systems that are more gender sensitive. Community-based farmers' organizations must be established more widely and existing ones strengthened to facilitate the development of such farmer participatory knowledge systems and to promote value addition, agro-processing and marketing that can better exploit economies of scale and encompass vertical, horizontal and lateral integration from production to markets. There is a pivotal role to be played by the International Service for National Agricultural Research in action research, designed to distill from the experiences of national agricultural research systems everywhere best practice options to guide this process.

    The pay-off to investment in agricultural science and technology will be higher if planning and investments are coordinated and sequenced. Design of organizational structures should promote 'connectivity' between the complementary institutions and a reward structure that encourages managers, scientists, farmers and credit institutions to communicate and cooperate with each other. Connectivity should include closer cooperation between university faculty members and their students working with national agricultural research scientists on priority problems of mutual interest. This will not only add university resources to technology-generating research efforts but will also improve the relevance, realism and quality of students' thesis research and overall educational experience. Farmer science and training centres are required that use farmer field schools and hands-on training to impart technical skills to farmers and their children in a learning-by-doing mode. This would be a part of a farmer participatory knowledge system within the participatory knowledge quadrangle coalition.

    The Sub-Saharan Africa Challenge Program has many of the elements required to give effect to this paradigm shift and is to be encouraged. However, high transaction costs are a cause for concern. Of course the expectation is that the Challenge Program will open new funding windows, but the jury is still out on this.

    Recommendation 2.2: Encourage institutions and mechanisms to articulate S&T strategies and policies

    National governments, subregional and continental agencies should formulate sectoral and multi-sectoral strategies and policies that recognize the importance of agriculture and agricultural science and technology to improving productivity and food security and accord to these the appropriate priorities. These should build upon the national agricultural research systems, subregional organizations, FARA and NEPAD processes and involve the private sector. Academies of science should be encouraged to develop mechanisms to more effectively articulate S&T strategies and policies and become more relevant to the achievement of national goals. National S&T Councils for Food and Agriculture should be formed with well-defined mandates and adequate budgets to give effect to agreed national agricultural R&D strategies and priorities. Such Councils would comprise representatives from users and creators of knowledge and technologies, as well as from relevant government ministries, including agriculture, science and technology, food, trade, industry and finance.

    To maximize the synergies in achieving food security and reduce vulnerability to shocks, a coordinated multi-sectoral strategy is needed, including health (hygiene, sanitation and safe drinking water); education; and agricultural/rural planning and development. There is a particular need to recognize the key role of women's education and status in reducing child malnutrition, the most insidious form of malnutrition. The Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers should embrace such strategies: to date there is little evidence of their inclusion. Strategies should include pro-active partnerships between the private sector and public research and extension agencies and, where improved efficiency and effectiveness could be achieved, privatization of public sector extension.

    For the short term, an integrated package of appropriate technology options, services, and public policies, particularly in the field of input and output pricing and information, is needed to close yield gaps and move technologies from the shelf to the field. Technologies on the shelf are often not necessarily sufficiently tailored. In some cases adaptation and fine-tuning of technology options will be required (for example, conferring insect resistance to maize and cotton cultivars using genetically modified organisms, as in South Africa). The private sector can play a significant role here. In the longer term, national, regional and continental strategic research capacities need strengthening to increase productivity potentials. Further research on technology exchange and delivery systems is also required.

    Recommendation 2.3: Cultivate African centres of agricultural research excellence

    The establishment of African centres of agricultural research excellence (ACARE) would enable research on both continental and regional strategic priorities as complements to national agricultural research systems (NARS). These would evolve from and build upon existing national agricultural research institutes, international agricultural research centres and university programs through strategically targeted institutional capacity-building investments, and would not normally involve the creation of another layer of new institutions or bricks and mortar. Such institutions would be virtual centres of excellence, with a concentration of researchers and programs with guaranteed finances and output quality control through international upgrading and updating mechanisms. These virtual centres would be African owned and governed, provide a magnet for African scientists to remain at home, and help strengthen African national agricultural research systems. A possible model for these is the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) program in Australia. ACARE will require new and assured funding mechanisms and the CRC offers one approach. Others are explored in the recent InterAcademy Council (IAC) report Inventing a better future. NEPAD, FARA and the African subregional organizations should be directly involved in the design and development of the ACARE concept.

    Immediate candidates for ACARE research foci might include biotechnology, climate change, biodiversity and post-harvest technology. Programs within CGIAR centres could be core elements or foundations for the ACARE. There is also good scope for the private sector to collaborate and lend support. In many cases, virtual ACARE may evolve from CGIAR centres, for example in biotechnology. ACARE can help address the NARS fragmentation challenge, ensure critical mass and facilitate linkages with international agricultural research centres and advanced research institutions in the North and South. Indeed the latter may be even more relevant to Africa. Clear criteria and mechanisms for the establishment of ACARE will need to be developed; the IAC report also contains useful guidelines in this respect. The InterAcademy Council, the InterAcademy Panel (IAP), and the academies of science could play a role in identifying suitable candidates for ACARE.

    Regional research networks should evolve progressively from instruments of information exchange into entities that promote enhanced collaboration among various research partners, including the private sector, in pursuit of agreed priority regional research programs. Competitive research funds and matching grants could provide a mechanism for this.

    Recommendation 2.4: Increase support for agricultural research and development

    Governments and donor agencies must recognize that building impact-oriented institutions requires sustained and sizeable increases in the support of agricultural research and development that involve both institutional core funding as well as competitive grant provisions. To capitalize on the demonstrated high returns to agricultural research and development in Africa and its unique role in enhancing productivity and food security and reducing poverty across all the heterogeneous production systems, agricultural research funding to national agricultural research systems should increase in real terms by at least 10 percent per year to 2015. This would double the agricultural research investment on average to at least 1.5 percent of agricultural GDP. As a quid pro quo for increased investments, agricultural R&D institutions must accept more stringent monitoring, evaluation and impact assessment to improve accountability and credibility and to become more flexible and responsive learning institutions. Without increased public investment in agricultural research and development, the private sector will remain moribund.

    Africa's agricultural science community cannot flourish if it continues to depend upon foreign aid for around 40 percent of its budget. Within national agricultural research systems, this means implementing one or more of the following: generating some revenues through producer levies, pursuing contract research, devolving some commodity research programs to producer groups where feasible, forming alliances with private sector entities and generating revenue from the commercialization of research products and services.

    Recommendation 2.5: Strengthen international agricultural research centres

    The international agricultural research centres with headquarters and/or programs in Africa should retain their international identities, but operate in more collaborative and complementary modes with national agricultural research institutes and universities in Africa, and in participatory partnership with farmers and consumers. They should immediately integrate their programs at the operational level, in ecoregional consortia, in order to ensure critical mass and to exploit economies and synergies. In this manner they will be more responsive to African priorities. The scope for full institutional integration should be explored by the CGIAR as a matter of priority. They would phase out of applied and adaptive research activities for which national institutions are more cost effective, and develop comparative advantages in those basic and strategic research activities that enjoy economies of scale, require larger investments and for which there are broad global and continental research spillovers.

    These African-based international agricultural research centres would provide the proposed African centres of agricultural research excellence with opportunities for improved access to international public S&T goods as peers. The level of investment in the African CGIAR centre programs for research and capacity building should be progressively strengthened by at least 5 percent per year, to at least US$235 million by 2015.

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