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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  • New Funding Mechanisms

    In the early 1990s, the Special Program for African Agricultural Research (SPAAR), USAID and the World Bank formed a coalition to promote new ways of financing agricultural research in Sub-Saharan Africa through the Sustainable Financing Initiative. Initially the emphasis of this initiative was on identifying alternative sources of funding for agricultural research. Debt swaps, endowment funds, and generation of income through commercialization of research results were some of the ideas that were contemplated. However, the idea of the Sustainable Financing Initiative that has attracted most attention is that of competitive research funds for agricultural research.

    ABT Associates conducted for USAID a series of country case studies into competitive funding schemes (Brinkerhoff et al., 2002). Gill and Carney (1999) conducted a study for the U.K. Department for International Development on competitive agricultural technology funds in developing countries. In recent years, this new funding mechanism has received significant support from various donors and the World Bank. A competitive research fund is now included in (basically) every World Bank project dealing with agricultural research in Africa. Not only at the national level but also at the regional level, competitive research funds are becoming increasingly fashionable.

    Possible advantages of competitive research funds are:

    • Closer alignment of research activities with (regional, national or subnational) research priorities;
    • Increased effectiveness by directing resources by scientific/technical merit (peer review);
    • Increased efficiency by reducing costs and increasing accountability;
    • Facilitating cross-institutional or cross-national collaboration; and
    • Mobilizing underutilized capacity where salaries currently represent the bulk of institutional funding. However, there are also possible disadvantages such as:
    • Most competitive research funds in Africa do not have a secure, local funding basis which means long-term research may suffer (heavy donor dependence).
    • Given the small size of research grants, transaction costs can be a high proportion of funding, particularly in the early stages.
    • It is a financing instrument that is suitable for a (specific) part of the research agenda, but not for the whole agenda.
    • The instrument requires relatively mature research organizations that can handle research contracts.
    • The instrument does not work in small research systems due to lack of competition.

    The two countries with the most ambitious competitive research fund plans are Cote d'Ivoire and Senegal. Their plan is to consolidate all agricultural research funding from government, donors, and the private sector in one national competitive research fund in the medium to long term. The committee managing this fund should set research priorities for the complete national agricultural research system. However, it is questionable whether such a highly centralized approach is desirable. Elliott (2000), for example, argues that competitive research funds can be a valuable complement to institutional funding but not substitute for it. The new Multi-Country Agricultural Productivity Program (MAPP) funding initiative of the World Bank for African agricultural research has a significant component of competitive grant funding.

    A financing instrument sparsely used in Africa is that of a matching grant scheme, where the government matches on a 50:50 basis the agricultural research funding mobilized by farmer organizations, commodity organizations, NGOs, private industries, and others. This instrument turned out to be quite effective in mobilizing funding from local districts and NGOs for the Zonal Agricultural Research Funds in Tanzania, but this is the only known country utilizing matching grant schemes.

    In addition to new funding mechanisms, one can also notice a shift in existing financing instruments away from general government funds and towards specific levies, own income, local government, and commercial contracts. For example, research-specific surcharges (either voluntary or legally enforced) are making their comeback.

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