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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  • Decentralization

    The decentralization reforms of national agricultural research systems take place at various levels: first, to lower levels of government or to specific interest groups; second, a geographic decentralization from national headquarters to district centres; third, the devolution of decision-making within organizations to the lowest pertinent level (the principle of subsidiarity). The second type of decentralization has gone further than the other two and has enhanced the extent of more applied/adaptive production systems and multidisciplinary research conducted in the process. The headquarters locations tend to focus more on disciplinary or commodity research at the more strategic end of the spectrum. An added advantage of geographic decentralization can be increased relevance of research and development because of the proximity to the clients, but conversely it can reduce cost-effectiveness of research. Moreover, convincing good quality scientific staff to relocate to more remote regions with poor research and general infrastructure has proven a challenge.

    Another factor, arguably a more limiting one in the decentralization of agricultural research capacity in Africa, is the small numbers of researchers employed relative to the farmer population. In Africa the agricultural population-to-researcher ratio in agriculture ranges from 2,500 to 50,000, numbers that clearly illustrate that there is a limit to how close one can bring research to farmers. For comparison, the ratio in developed countries was about 400 in the early 1980s (Pardey et al., 1991) and has most likely further declined in recent years. These figures do not include the researchers employed by private agricultural input and processing industries. Their inclusion would sharpen the contrast in research capacity even further.

    The interaction between farmers and researchers in the developed countries is of a completely different order to that of most African countries. Farmers in developed countries are relatively few (2-5 percent of the working population), are well-organized, can articulate their technology demands, make use of the latest communication and information technologies, and can be reached easily through the market or their own professional organizations. Most developed countries are now moving towards consolidation of agricultural research capacity in fewer locations because being physically close to the farming community has become less relevant. This situation does not currently apply in African countries.

    The proposed ACARE, if adequately resourced, will complement the trend to decentralized, participatory/adaptive research by national agricultural research systems, by providing economies of size in the conduct of strategic research on pervasive priority problems of a regional or continental character, where spillovers are possible. The participatory knowledge quadrangle is intended to bring them together with other stakeholders. In a sense, the ACARE, international advanced research centres and the advanced research institutions will be trying to raise attainable and potential productivity levels with partners and in the process create more de facto yield gaps, as described in Chapter 3. The participatory knowledge quadrangle (PKQ) will be vital in trying to close such gaps thus increasing productivity and improving food security.

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