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.
Since the mid-1980s there has been an increasing investment in subregional organizations designed to improve the coordination of agricultural research among the national agricultural research systems, share information, build capacity and economize on research resources. The first was the Southern African Centre for Cooperation in Agricultural Research (SACCAR) established in 1984. The Association of Agricultural Research Institutes in the Near East and North Africa (AARINENA) followed this in 1985. The West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (WECARD/CORAF) was created in 1987. The most recent and arguably most effective regional body was the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Central and Eastern Africa (ASARECA), formed in 1993.
Research networks, originally initiated by the international agricultural research centres prior to the formation of the subregional organizations, are now key to the functioning of subregional organizations. These were often started on a commodity basis but more recently natural resource management networks have been established. Networks are a more successful means of sharing information than efforts to jointly define and implement regional research programs on agreed regional priorities, which allow specialization by national agricultural research systems that become strong in particular fields. The intention with the latter was to achieve critical mass in high priority themes and share the results among all members, thereby making more effective use of scarce research resources to the benefit of all national agricultural research systems, especially the smaller ones (Roseboom et al.,1998).
But reaching agreement on regional priorities has been elusive and countries continue to pursue self-sufficiency in those aspects of agricultural research where they feel weakest. The dynamic intellectual property rights regime has further hampered the extent of cooperation originally envisaged. It is expected that the recent establishment of subregional competitive grant schemes for agricultural research by the European Union will further enhance regional collaboration in the ASARECA and CORAF regions. A similar facility is also available for the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), but its decision to rationalize and restructure the Southern African Centre for Cooperation in Agricultural Research (SACCAR) in 2002 has left a vacuum in this area and implementation seems to be delayed.