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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    The Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), established in 2002, arose from the Special Program for African Agricultural Research (SPAAR), which the World Bank initiated in the early 1990s. The establishment of FARA completed the chain linking African agricultural scientists to the Global Forum for Agricultural Research (GFAR). At present, FARA and the subregional organizations are contributing to the development of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Sub-Saharan Africa Challenge Program. Such a Challenge Program would not only involve CGIAR centres but also all elements of the national agricultural research systems and other potential partners both within and outside Africa, including advanced research institutions. This initiative arose following the Third System Review of the CGIAR in 1998, which examined how to collaborate more effectively as equal partners with the African national agricultural research systems. A similar initiative was launched by the CGIAR for the Central and West Asia and North Africa region in 2000.

    Currently, all 16 international advanced research centres of the CGIAR have African programs. Overall they devote 48 percent of their scientific human resources to Africa. Two of the centres - the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the West African Rice Development Association (WARDA) - devote 100 percent to Africa. Research staff numbers at the international advanced research centres represent less than 3 percent compared with the total FTE researchers in the national agricultural research centres of Africa. In addition to the CGIAR centres, there are other independent international advanced research centres conducting research, as well as the sizeable efforts France's Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (CIRAD) and Research Institute for Development (IRD, previously ORSTOM). The latter two have almost twice the number of scientists working on Africa than do the CGIAR centres. Hence the overall contribution of international agencies comprises about 10 percent of the total agricultural research capacity in Africa. This is substantially more than in Asia and Latin America.

    There is a strong sentiment among many African national agricultural research systems and some institutions in the donor community that the 16 CGIAR centres should consolidate their African programs, activities and management into two or three regional centres. Over time it is felt these centres should be African owned and governed, instead of having the degree of independence they currently have under the CGIAR governance structure. The Sub-Saharan Africa Challenge Program is not viewed by the national agricultural research systems and donors as a substitute for fundamental changes in the way the CGIAR centres operate in Africa. While the loose conglomerate structure of the CGIAR worked well for much of the 1970s and 1980s, it now may be a disadvantage. However the Study Panel believes the CGIAR centres continue to be an essential element in achieving agricultural productivity gains and improved food security in Africa and that they must retain their international character.

    At the international level, donors are increasingly unwilling to provide core support for the international advanced research centres based on system research priorities recommended by the CGIAR interim Science Council (previously the Technical Advisory Committee). Instead they have restricted their funding to their own thematic and geographic priorities, thereby eroding the raison d'etre of the CGIAR. There is no effective mechanism that checks whether the overall research agenda that evolves is consistent with agreed priorities of the system, even though in principle that is one of the roles of the Science Council. Unrestricted budget allocations to the CGIAR in support of the agreed agenda dropped from 69 percent in 1991 to 43 percent in 2001. There are signs that this trend may intensify in the years ahead. In this climate there is a question about the viability of the whole CGIAR concept based on a system of independent international agricultural research centers. The Study Panel is concerned about this situation. It is not convinced at present that African-owned and African-governed international advanced research centres are real substitutes for the CGIAR concept of truly international agricultural research centres.

    The Study Panel recommends that the international advanced research centres with headquarters in Africa, and those with programs there but headquarters elsewhere, must integrate their activities explicitly in order to respond more effectively to African priorities. This could include ceding to 2-3 African-headquartered international advanced research centres the responsibility for governance, management and oversight of the African regional programs of other international advanced research centres. At present international advanced research centres with headquarters or major subcentres in Africa host staff of other centres. This must immediately extend to full programmatic integration. The scope for full institutional integration should be explored by the CGIAR as a matter of priority.

    There is evidence that integration is occurring - for example the recent decision by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) to appoint a joint director of their respective policy and livestock marketing programs. The recommendation of the External Program and Management Review Panel of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) to move its headquarters to Africa may be a less-preferred way to achieve an enhanced institutional focus on Sub-Saharan Africa than to cede programmatic integration to existing centres with headquarters in Africa. The Study Panel is encouraged that the CGIAR is planning to conduct a review of the structure of its operations in Africa in the near future where these and other issues can be considered in a comprehensive manner.

    Only strong national and international advanced research centres and universities will make a difference in African science and technology. All these institutions must have a substantial increase in their resources, without which the proposed Challenge Program for Sub-Saharan Africa will not succeed. The stakeholders in the Challenge Program recognize this and indeed see it as a mechanism for building stronger agricultural R&D institutions at all levels. The Study Panel also does not regard this Challenge Program as a substitute for strong R&D institutions. However, in its current form, it has emphasized process rather than problems, with attendant large transaction costs. Contrary to the intention, the Challenge Program for Sub-Saharan Africa might only be a zero-sum financial game at the expense of existing institutions. These concerns were conveyed to the Study Panel during the consultative workshops.

    Along with the strengthening of national and regional research as recommended in this report, the Study Panel strongly urges that CGIAR centres reposition themselves with respect to their work and impact in Africa in the following manner:

    • In the medium term, the current governance structures (Boards) of all the international advanced research centres should become more balanced with respect to African participation, ownership and accountability. It is proposed that national agricultural research systems play a more significant role in the selection process of the actual board members.
    • The CGIAR Secretariat should facilitate NARS and subregional organizations engagement with the system as a whole, and act as custodian for reporting progress in the development of both, in recognition that they are critical stakeholders in and beneficiary of the CGIAR centres' work.
    • In their impact evaluation activities, the CGIAR centres need to ensure that governments in partner countries are considered as a critical audience, alongside the investors and scientific community.
    • The communication strategy and action plan of the CGIAR must be expanded beyond the traditional donor community to include high-level policymakers in governments, private sector and knowledge institutions in developing and developed countries.

    The Study Panel sees considerable merit in the cultivation of African centres of agricultural research excellence (ACARE) from existing strong national agricultural research institutes and universities. The New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) has also urged the creation of such centres. In the Study Panel's view there are important reasons why:

    • There is a priority strategic research agenda that is unmet by existing institutions.
    • Regional agricultural research networks under the auspices of the subregional organizations have been unsuccessful in coordinating the conduct of agricultural research among the national agricultural research systems to exploit synergies and comparative advantages and to economize on scarce agricultural research resources. Although they have succeeded in facilitating information sharing, individual national agricultural research systems have been reluctant to cede responsibility for priority research to other national agricultural research systems. The ACARE programs on the other hand would have a mandate to ensure this.
    • Africans need to assume the responsibility for research leadership and be accountable for the resources they receive to pursue strategic research on priority themes.
    • ACAREs will attract Africa's best and the brightest scientists from the continent and perhaps the Diaspora, acting as a magnet to stimulate, reward, retain and perhaps even regain the 'brains.'
    • ACAREs will provide a focal point to mobilize additional resources for agricultural research in Africa focused on African problems.
    • ACAREs would allow exploitation of economies of size and research spillovers and reduce the risk of duplicated effort among often small and fragmented current programs.
    • ACAREs would have a responsibility to strengthen African national agricultural research systems.
    • ACAREs would be a visible sign that African governments affirm the strategic importance of internationally recognized African scientific institutions for improving agricultural productivity and food security.

    The ACARE would have the following characteristics:

    • Evolve from existing institutions rather than be created de novo; where possible such centres may operate as virtual centres of research with shared, well-focused aims.
    • Be African led, owned and governed.
    • Be supported in both cash and kind by African governments and the international donor community.
    • Be independent research institutions.
    • Have a recruitment policy (based on academic merit) that reflects the pursuit of scientific excellence.
    • Have a salary structure that is competitive and does not differentiate among nationalities.
    • Be able to establish headquarters agreements with African host governments that accord them the appropriate immunities and privileges to facilitate the pursuit of their regional (international) mandates.
    • Operate in close collaboration and partnership with farmers, national agricultural research institutions, universities, international advanced research centres and advanced research institutions.
    • During the evolution of ACAREs, care should be taken to avoid the depletion of human and financial resources of existing research institutions.
    • Some ACARE would have continental mandates and others regional mandates.

    There are several themes of continental priority, which are currently not addressed adequately by either national agricultural research systems or international advanced research centres, that could be candidates for ACARE. They include:

    • Biotechnology;
    • Biodiversity and plant genetic resource gene mapping of relevant crops, and their characterization, conservation, and cataloguing;
    • Fisheries and aquaculture;
    • Water, conceived in an integrated approach, from its catchment to its release;
    • Soil fertility, conservation and sustainability;
    • Small ruminants;
    • Game and wildlife;
    • Policy, information and communications technology, data generation and management.

    In addition, a number of eco-regional ACARE could be initiated, including:

    • Semi-arid tropical rainfed agriculture;
    • Pastoral systems;
    • Humid/subhumid tropical systems; and
    • Highland systems.

    Models for the ACARE could include the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF), WARDA, International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), International Trade Centre (ITC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Genetic Resources Centre. Twinning arrangements of ACAREs with advanced research institutions during their development could help to attain the desired critical mass and levels of expertise. The CGIAR centres could in some instances become a core element or a foundation for an ACARE, such as the case of ILRI with the recently formed African BioSciences Centre.

    The Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) model in Australia could offer a useful template for the ACARE interactions with other stakeholders. This program began in 1990 to improve the effectiveness of Australia's R&D effort in six sectors, one of which was agriculture. The CRC links researchers from universities, state and federal research institutions, like Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), and private industry to focus R&D efforts on progress toward utilization and commercialization. The close interaction between researchers and the users of research is a key feature of the CRC framework. Another feature is industry contributions to CRC education programs to produce industry-ready graduates.

    ACARE will only be viable and worthwhile if they evolve at the same time as national agricultural research systems in Africa are strengthened. ACARE are perceived by the Study Panel as complements to strong national agricultural research systems and must emerge from those that have track records and critical mass. To be successful in translating their research into productivity gains in farmers' fields, ACARE must be an integral part of the proposed knowledge generation and diffusion quadrangle described later in this chapter.

    The first IAC report Inventing a better future makes a strong case for autonomous centres of excellence in science and engineering in developing countries, whether of local, national, regional or international status: 'Centers of excellence are the key to innovation, and their importance cannot be overestimated.' The IAC report contains many examples of successful centres of excellence in science and technology and their features, which can provide valuable guidance to plan for ACARE (IAC, 2004).

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