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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  • Role of Governments

    'The most fundamental element of a science agenda for Africa is a genuine political will and vision, consistent with the objectives of the agenda, which acknowledges that science and technology are credible tools for solving our problems,' says Prof. Turner T. Isoun, Honourable Minister of Science and Technology, Federal Republic of Nigeria.

    The global trend to critically examine the legitimate role of government has affected African R&D institutions. New forms of sharing the responsibility are being examined, so that those who benefit most also share in the costs and reduce the fiscal burden on taxpayers. Research on export crops has a long tradition of close private-sector involvement, because producers of exports generally reap most of the benefits of research and development on these commodities. Hence, they are more willing to fund all or part of it. Six of the seven African countries studied (the exception being Ethiopia) revealed a reinforcement of shared responsibility between the government and the private sector for research in recent years on commercial/export crops. In addition, a complete privatization of research on coffee, tea and tobacco is under way in Tanzania and of research on sugar in Kenya. In Tanzania, even extension in tea is being privatized.

    With non-tradable food commodities, consumers are often the main beneficiaries of research and development in terms of reduced prices. As a result, producers have been less willing to fund research and development involving these crops and public funding has been the primary source of support. However with trade liberalization and market-led/farmer-driven R&D agendas, the possibility of turning previously non-tradable commodities into tradables becomes more likely, increasing the incentives and scope for producer support for agricultural research and development.

    New public management ideas and concepts, which have strongly influenced the current NARS reform agenda, argue for a clear separation between funding, priority setting and implementation functions within government. The establishment of autonomous or semi-autonomous NARIs in Africa during the past 25 years, for example, has resulted in a separation of research funding from priority setting and implementation.

    In several African countries, the responsibility for priority setting in agricultural research has been delegated to either external committees composed of farmer and industry representatives (e.g., Cote d'Ivoire, Senegal) or to democratically elected district councils (e.g., Uganda, Tanzania). The expectation is that by giving stakeholders control over the research budget, agricultural research will become more impact oriented.

    The Study Panel views these as desirable developments while noting the following caveats:

    • Mobilization of private sector resources for research should not be viewed as an opportunity to reduce the government's own contributions to research of a public-good character.
    • Smallholder farmer organizations are weak in Africa and hence it will be difficult to mobilize them to articulate priorities and effective demands for agricultural research, as laudable as this might be.
    • It is not clear that stakeholder sovereignty in research priority setting will automatically lead to a research agenda with higher impacts on the poor and food insecure.
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