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.
Inadequate investments in rural development have taken a severe toll on the provision of infrastructure and services. The road system in Africa today is only a fraction of what India had decades ago (Spencer, 1994) and leaves about 70 percent of its farmers poorly connected to markets. Many farmers can neither procure fertilizers and other inputs at affordable prices nor market their own products effectively. Poor telecommunications infrastructure also keeps farmers in isolation. Similarly, poor access to health and education services diminishes agricultural productivity, contributes to the spread of infectious diseases and locks rural people into a poverty trap. Box 7.2 outlines the benefits of increased infrastructure investment.
Africa's low population densities make per capita infrastructure investment and maintenance costs high and difficult to finance. Capacity building in Africa should not be limited to science and technology but also involve technical and vocational training for staff of agro-service centres, engineers to maintain infrastructure and machines. New technologies present alternatives to expensive conventional large-scale infrastructure development, often difficult to maintain. The use of wireless communication technologies and the convergence of technologies give new affordable possibilities for telephony and Internet access. Wind and solar power can be viable alternatives to conventional sources of energy. Encouraging greater use of locally available labour could contain the costs of feeder roads. Encouraging greater local ownership of investments through co-financing arrangements and by devolving responsibility for maintenance to local governments and communities addresses many previous problems associated with upkeep.
Achieving realistic levels of infrastructure and rural services will require substantial increase in public investment. Public investment in rural areas has fallen in many African countries in the past decade or so due to the fiscal pressures imposed on governments through structural adjustment programs and a precipitous decline in donor support for such fundamentals (Fan and Rao, 2003). The over-zealous downsizing of the public institutions that provide essential public goods and services like research and development, infrastructure, education and health will also need to be reversed. These institutions have key roles to play and need to be revamped and strengthened to fulfill their functions in cost-effective and demand-responsive ways.