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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  • Animal Production

    Animal production in many African countries contributes 20-30 percent of agricultural gross domestic product (AgGDP). In countries such as Botswana, Mauritania and Namibia, this may reach 80 percent (Abassa, 1995). Farmers in mixed crop-livestock systems are estimated to gain more than half their cash income from animals, and in some semi-arid regions ruminants are practically the only means of food production (Kabore, 1994). Eleven percent of the African population totally depends on animals (Heap, 1994: 32-45). But current total meat production is inadequate to meet dietary needs, and Africa has a great trade deficit in livestock and livestock products (Abassa, 1995).

    The place of livestock in African farming systems requires special attention. The major constraints to intensification in smallholder crop-livestock systems are nutrition, diseases and poor genetic potentials. There is a need for stronger institutions that understand and facilitate the smallholder intensification processes. Research opportunities include development of dual purpose (food-feed) crops, to meet human needs and provide improved nutrition for livestock; these must cope with climatic stresses during critical dry seasons and droughts. Other research opportunities lie in developments in livestock genetics and genomics. These make concepts - such as combining the hardiness and disease resistance qualities of many indigenous breeds of livestock with the productivity traits of many exotic breeds and the use of single vaccines to protect against multiple pathogens - likely realities by the year 2020.

    Smallholders produce an extraordinary variety of livestock products, and the potential to improve their quantity, quality, range and dissemination is a major opportunity for poverty reduction at all levels. The challenges to, and opportunities for, improving the access of the poor to markets in livestock products are very much intertwined. High on the list are the sanitary and phytosanitary standards that govern trade in livestock products, affecting local, regional and international markets. Other research is required to improve food safety and develop better livestock policies.

    The complexity of the livestock research agenda in Africa is illustrated by an in-depth analysis by Perry and colleagues (2002) of the priority diseases/pathogens according to their potential impact on the poor. They analyzed 76 candidate diseases/pathogens and found only 3 of the top 10 priority candidates were the same for the West African region and the Eastern, Central and Southern African regions (those are italicized in Table 4.4). The other seven in each region were different diseases/pathogens. This re-emphasizes the point that Africa deals with extremely diverse ecologies and biotic/abiotic constraints, which will require regionally mediated strategies, and only rarely continentwide ones.

    The Perry study shows the opportunities for research that would help reduce losses from the diseases/pathogens. The most frequently cited opportunities are studies of epidemiology and of delivery/extension systems, followed by diagnostics, new vaccines, therapeutics and modified/test vaccines.

    Some other issues relevant to livestock production are detailed in Boxes 4.3 and 4.4.

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