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.
Rapid developments in information and communication technologies have changed the world dramatically. Collection, processing and dissemination of huge amounts of data have become feasible. Information technology has stimulated the development of comprehensive computation models, like models of crop and animal growth. Improved communication technologies have spurred information flow and virtually eliminated time lags in information transfer. Timely availability and access to information at any location, irrespective of the distance, provide better means to anticipate developments, such as market information on prices, but also early warnings on insufficient food availability due to crop failure. Those without access to such rapid communication are pushed into isolation (e.g. Salih, 2004).
As with breeding and biotechnology, information technology can assist agricultural production practices to overcome the gaps between the actual and attainable yield and between attainable and potential yield, and to increase the potential yield level. Rapid, effective information processing and management can help agriculture. Some examples are resource allocation, crop and animal production modelling and improved resource-use efficiency. In addition there is a strong need for risk-reducing information such as for the Sahalian zone. Agro-ecological analyses may reveal substantial production potentials (Bindraban et al., 1999; 2000), but risk-reducing information is vital for farmers considering use of new technologies, such as drought-tolerant crops (Jagtap and Chan, 2000). Decision support systems for strategic, tactical and operational decision-making are needed to supply such information. The whole arsenal of new information and communications technologies, such as remote sensing, geographic information systems (GIS) and crop and climate modelling, can be employed for this purpose.