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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  • Exploiting Synergies

    At best there are weak linkages between national agricultural research institutes and the universities in Africa - often they are non-existent. This represents a failure to exploit synergies when there are acknowledged human and financial constraints to effective agricultural research and development in the national agricultural research systems. One difficulty is that they are mostly in different ministries (agriculture and higher education) hence a national perspective is necessary. Obviously, there is a role for national councils of science and technology and/or a scientific adviser to the Prime Minister to help address such issues.

    Universities should be regarded as key components of national agricultural research systems and participate actively in national and regional agricultural R&D-priority setting, and in the emerging competitive and other funding mechanisms being proposed under the MAPP initiative of the World Bank. Such initiatives should ensure that basic research does not miss out, as often short-term impacts are emphasized, while basic and strategic research is by nature long term. Universities in consultation with NARIs should review undergraduate curricula to ensure that the students gain an understanding of the constraints and opportunities in smallholder agricultural/farming systems (as opposed to reductionist curricula more relevant to large-scale commercial farms in the linear research-extension model now increasingly being questioned).

    If competitive grant funding mechanisms are to minimize tensions among institutions vying for resources, they need to be structured to especially reward creative asymmetric partnerships that include weaker actors such as the smaller NARS. The formation of such teams with common interests in competing for grants and collaborating in jointly-funded research projects can be a strong unifying force, as evidenced by the success of the Australian Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) model described earlier in this chapter.

    Participatory/diagnostic on-farm research approaches and knowledge and information management techniques using information and communications technology are strategies for equipping graduates to play more entrepreneurial roles. They may help to foster smallholder organizations and work with them to make e-farming a reality. The i@mac.com reform at Makerere University in Uganda is an innovative approach. Graduate students undertaking thesis research could be located at accredited NARIs for the conduct of their research, thus exposing them to the real national/regional priority problems of smallholders.

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