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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  • Exploiting Post-harvest Opportunities

    Proper storage can prevent much loss in quantity and quality of the harvest (see Figure 3.4b, Chapter 3). Maize is generally stored in traditional granaries for food and feed and for sale. Losses in excess of 30 percent over short storage seasons are not uncommon. Chemical control strategies work but are rarely used because of economic constraints, environmental damage and adverse health effects (even deaths have been recorded from misuse). As damage generally has multiple causes, integrated pest management approaches have good prospects for controlling post-harvest storage losses, such as in maize (Adda et al., 2002). Produce quality is also strongly related to storage practices, as has been shown with aflatoxin contamination in maize (Hell et al., 2000). Feed storage is necessary also to improve livestock production.

    Proper storage and high-quality processing is of importance to generate export opportunities for African produce. Current sanitary and phytosanitary standards may restrict access to foreign markets due to increasing demands for food safety by wealthier consumers. However, illegitimate use of such standards as non-tariff barriers must be prevented. Otsuki and colleagues (2001) for instance shows that stricter European Union standards of aflatoxin compared to those set by the international standard of the Codex Alimentarius Commission will reduce health risk by only approximately 1.4 deaths per billion per year, while decreasing exports from Africa by 64 percent, or US$670 million. In defining standards, Henson and Loader (2001) argue that more effective participation of developing countries is needed where developed countries have to take special circumstances of developing countries into account. In addition, developing countries need to implement institutional structures and procedures to enable producers and processors to comply with the necessary standards.

    Part of the agenda for enhancing agricultural productivity will require increased processing of agricultural products into finished products for domestic consumption and for export, so that market constraints do not prevent turning it into added value and profits. There are a number of constraints to developing agro-processing industries in Africa. First, expert knowledge, entrepreneurship and management skills are needed. Next, the infrastructural facilities (power, water, communication, etc.) are inadequate in most African countries. Third, agro-processing cannot rely on subsistence agriculture for the needed raw materials - an inadequate supply of agricultural products of uniform quality hampers development. ufficient mechanized and commercial production units are needed to provide a steady supply of primary agricultural products. Last, the machinery needed for processing is not available. Local research and development activities concentrate mainly on relatively simple technologies without breaking new ground. The interest or capability to engineer and develop sophisticated machinery is often lacking.

    The considerable knowledge about such activities present in the industrialized world and in commercial food companies is needed to help African-based retail and processing firms. Improvements in post-harvest technologies, including sorting, grading, packaging, cooling and storing, are urgently needed (Ki-Munseki, 2004) to develop a sound processing industry.

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