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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  • Effective Farmer Organizations

    To complete the generation and diffusion of the knowledge triangle requires effective farmer organizations to form a quadrangle. In Africa there are too few smallholder farmer organizations to ensure their full participation as key stakeholders in national, regional, continental and international agricultural R&D-priority setting. Options that should be considered include:

    • Changes to the university curricula as described above;
    • Political commitment to the promotion of smallholder farmer organizations;
    • Revisiting the role of cooperatives, especially the scope for them to improve the efficiency of markets for inputs and outputs, achieving economies of scale in purchasing, sales, credit delivery and extension;
    • Identification of smallholder 'champions' among scientists and the general community;
    • Active involvement of national agricultural research systems, subregional organizations and FARA in this endeavour;
    • Have ISNAR include this as a major element in its new action research program in Sub-Saharan Africa.

    Is it possible that successfully organized smallholder associations that become effective 'stakeholders' in agricultural research and development, driving the agendas and reaping resulting benefits, will evolve into politically savvy advocates for increased public agricultural R&D funding? Their large numbers make it quite feasible where democratic reforms and improved governance have taken place. Hence the returns to national agricultural research systems in actively promoting smallholder organizations could be quite large and the 'transactions costs' in generating increased effective demand for agricultural research and development in this manner should be viewed as an 'investment,' with the dividend being increased public R&D resources (supply).

    Even if smallholder organizations that become stakeholders and participants in agricultural research and development cannot so influence the government through their votes, they may be prepared to finance more research and development themselves if they become convinced research institutions are indeed more responsive to their priorities and needs, and hence can deliver increased income to them. However, unlike farmers who are involved in cash export crops, smallholders primarily growing food crops for home consumption will be much more difficult to convince about financing all or part of the agricultural research and development, as free riding will be a problem and a large share of the benefits of research and development will accrue to consumers, thus reducing the incentive for smallholders to self-fund.

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