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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  • 5. Engaging Science and Technology for the Benefit of African Agriculture in the Near Term

    Recommendation 5.1: Employ the Study Panel's recommended strategies to implement a series of Participatory Science and Technology Pilot Programs

    The Study Panel's recommended strategies should be employed to implement a series of Participatory Science and Technology Pilot Programs, focusing on the priority continental farming systems identified by the Study Panel and on institutional innovations that aim to realize unexploited yield potentials, thereby improving food security. As described in this report, the Study Panel undertook a priority assessment of 10 major African farming systems, using two indicators - an agricultural value-added index and a composite underweight children index. Based on this analysis, four priority farming systems were identified: maize mixed, cereal/root crop mixed, irrigated, and tree crop based. The highland farming systems were not fully represented in this analysis, and they may also have potential. For all these farming systems, there are many technological opportunities for enhancing productivity and profitability in Africa on an environmentally sustainable basis.

    As 'seeing and harvesting are believing' to resource-poor farming families, the Study Panel proposes the following action agenda:

    1. The initiation of Participatory Science and Technology Pilot Programs should be initiated, which can develop appropriate S&T institutional innovation options for unleashing latent productivity potentials, leading to an enhancement of household food and income security. There is a need for operational-scale pilot S&T programs covering small agro-ecological regions. These area-level multi-institutional programs could be developed for the four 'best bet' continental priority farming systems areas and/or priority systems identified regionally or nationally.
    2. The UN Secretary-General should take steps to identify appropriate regional, national and international institutions to implement the pilot programs designed to shape Africa's agricultural future. There should be strong African involvement at every step.
    3. Such participatory S&T pilot programs should be introduced where the following components of the production-processing-marketing-consumption chain can be developed in a participatory mode:
      • An assessment of indigenous technology options relevant to improvement of productivity and food security;
      • An assessment of market potentials and constraints for existing and prospective commodities in the farming systems;
      • An assessment of the scope for the following new technology options to enhance productivity and food security:
      • Integrated nutrient and soil fertility enhancement;
      • Integrated pest management;
      • Small-scale water harvesting and efficient and economic use through micro-irrigation systems of delivery of water and nutrients;
      • Biotechnological applications like improved genetic strains (including genetically modified organisms, where relevant), biofertilizers and biopesticides;
      • Use of improved farm implements and appropriate mechanization for increasing labour productivity, reducing drudgery and ensuring timely farm operations;
      • Introduction of appropriated post-harvest processing, storage and marketing techniques;
      • Promotion of non-farm employment through the introduction of technology options for adding economic value to primary products and through agri-business enterprises based on micro-credit;
      • An information and communication program to provide location-specific information relating to meteorological, management and marketing factors and to promote genetic, quality and trade literacy among smallholder rural farm families;
      • Establishment of farmer field schools for integrated pest, disease and weed management, integrated water and fertility management and the other aspects of production and post-harvest technologies based on the principle of learning by doing;
      • Promotion of institutional structures like cooperatives and self-help groups that can confer the power of scale to smallholders at the production and post-harvest phases of farm operations.
      • Exploring the scope for institutional innovations such as:
      • The promotion of a participatory knowledge quadrangle coalition led by smallholders involving them and universities, national agricultural research institutions and extension agencies to explore new modes of partnership;
      • The identification of candidates for African centres of agricultural research excellence that would serve the interests of smallholders;
      • The stimulation of public-private partnerships that would address priority constraints that cannot be alleviated by independent activities and aimed at building trust and synergies;
      • Identifying the constraints at the national, regional, continental and global levels that prevent the realization of the promise and potential of the Participatory Science and Technology Pilot Programs to improve agricultural productivity and food security at the local level.
    4. The Study 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 priority farming systems. Nothing succeeds like success, and hence the sites for the initial pilot schemes should be developed where there is a socioeconomic, political, scientific and ecological environment conducive to the achievement of the goals of this program. A local farmers' advisory council involving both men and women should be constituted to assume ownership and undertake monitoring and evaluation of the program.
    5. Within the pilot schemes, plans should be developed that stimulate convergence and synergy among the range of programs designed to achieve the following UN Millennium Development Goals:
      • Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger through a paradigm shift from unskilled to skilled work and through sustainable farming systems intensification, diversification and value-addition;
      • Achieve universal primary education;
      • Promote gender equality and technological and skill empowerment of women;
      • Improve maternal health and nutrition, so as to avoid the birth of babies characterized by low birth weight;
      • Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases;
      • Ensure conservation and enhancement of basic life-support systems (i.e., land, water, forests, biodiversity and the atmosphere).
    6. To mobilize the necessary technological, financial, managerial and institutional resources essential for the successful implementation of these pilot programs - designed to harness the best in frontier science and traditional wisdom for enhancing the productivity, profitability and sustainability of major farming systems - it is necessary to organize local - or regional - level consortia or coalitions of farmers, government, nongovernment, community, research, educational, mass media and financial and donor institutions. The Participatory Science and Technology Pilot Programs should not draw resources from existing programs, but build upon them.
    7. These pilot programs should entail action research. There will need to be an effective monitoring and evaluation capability to assess their performance and draw appropriate lessons for designing operational programs which involve upscaling and adaptation to the diverse environments in Africa.
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