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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    About half of the 54 countries in Africa have agricultural research systems that employ fewer than 100 full-time equivalent (FTE) researchers (Table 5.1). Egypt has by far the biggest system, employing close to 6,700 FTE researchers. This is some 36 percent of Africa's national agricultural research capacity (Figure 5.1a). Nigeria and South Africa represent the second league of research systems, each employing more than 1,000 FTE researchers. In 39 of the 54 countries the NARI is the dominant agricultural research entity and represents typically more than half of the NARS capacity. Initially, the adoption of a NARI model led to a consolidation of research capacity; but, subsequently, this again became diffused. Research capacity at universities is in most countries small and fragmented, but has tended to grow slightly faster than the research capacity of non-academic agencies. Moreover, the share of universities in total agricultural research capacity increases with the size of the NARS. Among African national agricultural research systems with less than 100 FTE researchers, universities contain 12 percent of the research capacity, while among African national agricultural research systems with 500-1,500 FTE researchers the share is 22 percent. Nigeria has the highest percentage of FTE agricultural researchers (38 percent) located at universities.

    Government research agencies represent 81 percent of total research capacity of African national agricultural research systems. Universities contribute 18 percent, with the private and non-profit sectors as the remaining 1 percent. The university contribution is comparable to the figure of 12 percent for Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, excluding research and development in food processing, agricultural machinery and agrochemicals. Slowly but steadily over the last 20 years universities are becoming a more important component of agricultural research in Africa (Michelsen et al., 2003; Beintema et al., 1998). Box 5.1 details the evolution of African universities.

    The proliferation of universities and students in Africa and stagnant funding since the 1960s has resulted in declining standards, facilities and performance. There is a need to rationalize the university system and identify those which will be regional centres of excellence for research and postgraduate training and those that will focus on undergraduate teaching. Universities could benefit from more autonomy and less centralized control. Information and communications technology provides an opportunity for virtual universities. The World Bank policy of not lending or making grants for higher education should be abolished in recognition of the special needs in Africa.

    Non-profit private agricultural research is primarily on important export crops where commodity excesses are used to fund the research, the research agenda being increasingly set by farmers who produce the mostly non-food commodities concerned. These agencies date from colonial times and are usually well managed when producer control is strong (Kangasniemi, 2002). They now extend their reach to provide some producer-funded extension. Historically extension in Africa was always publicly funded, especially for food crops.

    In 44 countries the Ministry of Agriculture is primarily responsible for agricultural research. The Ministry of Science is the responsible agency in only 10 of the countries and all but two of these 10 are francophone. Within these Ministries there can be several separate departments responsible for individual components of the national agricultural research system, making coordination difficult. Competitive research funding is gradually being recognized as a means to enhance institutional cooperation and collaboration in this complex environment. To improve stakeholder participation in governance of publicly funded agricultural research, representatives of farmer organizations and agricultural industries are being appointed to boards of national agricultural research institutions. However civil servants and political appointees, not technical and scientific personnel or agricultural producers, still dominate such boards.

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