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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  • Workshop Reports


    WORKSHOPS

    The IAC charged the Study Panel with ensuring that its report would be African-led and owned. To that end, consultative workshops were held in four regions of Africa in collaboration with relevant subregional agricultural research organizations. 

    • Eastern and Central Africa.  (Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa/InterAcademy Council (ASARECA/IAC), 31 January-2 February 2003, Inter-Continental Hotel Nairobi, Kenya; 43 articipants.
    • Northern Africa.  (Association of Agricultural Research Institutions in the Near East and North Africa (AARINENA/IAC), 3-5 February 2003, Hassan II Institute of Agronomy and Veterinary Medicine, Rabat, Morocco; 30 participants.
    • Southern Africa. (National Department of Agriculture, Republic of South Africa/IAC), 7-9 February 2003, Magaliesburg, South Africa; 32 partici­pants.
    • Western and Central Africa. (Le Counseil Ouest et Centre Africain pour la Recherche et le Developpement Agricoles (CORAF/IAC), 10-12 Febru­ary 2003, Dakar, Senegal; 45 participants.

    In the workshops leading African scientists and research managers were invited to present their views on existing constraints to increased agricultural productivity in the regions’ major agricultural/farming systems. The workshop participants also discussed the possible role of science and technology in alleviating constraints and formulated alternative interventions and strategies to improve food security. 

    The workshop proceedings (see below) are all edited by leading African experts. They reflect the opinions of the workshop's participants and not necessarily the opinion of the IAC Study Panel.

     

    HIGHLIGHTS

    The following are the priority issues that emerged from the four regional consul­tative workshops.

    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?

    Institutional issues

    Markets

    • Prices for outputs of smallholders are too low and those of inputs too high, such that their ability to become more market-oriented is severely constrained.
    • Paucity of access by smallholders to market, technology and other infor­mation means missed opportunities. There is need to capitalize on the unique opportunity provided by information and communications tech­nology to provide such access.

    National agricultural research systems and subregional organizations

    • There is inadequate intersectoral strategic planning and priority setting for agricultural research and development (R & D) on both a national and regional basis.
    • At best there are weak linkages between national agricultural research institutes and the universities, and often they are non-existent; this rep­resents a failure to exploit synergies when there are acknowledged hu­man and financial constraints to effective agricultural research and de­velopment in the national agricultural research systems (NARS).
    • Collaboration among the NARS, subregional organizations, international agricultural research centres and the advanced research institutes needs to improve significantly in order to fully exploit synergies.
    • There have been excessive and continuous reforms and restructuring of NARS, with different approaches being suggested by different donors. Decentralization/devolution and increased stakeholder participation of­fer many attractions but also pitfalls.

    Farmers

    • There are inadequate numbers of effective smallholder farmer organiza­tions to ensure their full participation as key stakeholders in national, re­gional, continental and international agricultural R & D priority setting.

    Governments

    • The quality and extent of science education at primary, secondary and tertiary levels is inadequate, which limits capacity building. A major boost in the priority accorded to science education at all three levels is re­quired.
    • There are weak or non-existent links between research and extension. There is a rejection of the linear model of the research-extension-farmer linkage and an expressed need for a fresh approach.
    • Customary and communal land tenure systems are often poorly devel­oped and as a result are constraining investments in agriculture by smallholders, especially in some countries of Southern Africa.

    Private sector

    • There are a limited public-private partnerships in agricultural research and development, which could be helped by investing in basic commu­nications and transport infrastructure, as well as cultivating a climate of trust between the two sectors that is currently lacking.

    Markets and policies

    Markets and trade

      Globalization and subsidies by countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) are placing undue challenges and constraints on African countries in pursuing an export-oriented agricultural marketing strategy. African countries will need to develop more effective international advocacy with the North, perhaps on a regional basis.
    • Barriers are limiting African intra-regional trade opportunities; countries must harmonize their intra- and inter-regional trade policies.
    • Domestic agricultural markets are not functioning effectively due to poor infrastructure and inadequate availability of timely market information.

    Resources and governance

    • There are inadequate incentives for the private sector to invest in the agricultural sector, resulting in underinvestment and capital flight.
    • Poor governance is leading to a breakdown of the democratic institu­tions that are critical to a more participatory involvement of stakeholders in agricultural R & D agenda setting and resource mobilization.
    • 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 pro-active 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 enterpreneurial orientation.

     

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