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.
Broad-based agricultural growth centred on small farms would make deep inroads into poverty and hunger in Africa. Each 10 percent growth in agricultural productivity in Africa has been shown to reduce poverty by 6 percent. Stated differently, with more than 110 million poor in Africa, a 10 percent increase in crop yields can help almost 7 million more people raise their incomes above the poverty line of us$1 per day (Thirtle et al., 2001). At this rate, a smallholder-led growth strategy could lead to huge cuts in Africa's rural poverty and enhanced food security within a couple of decades. But even this will not be enough to alleviate poverty or to reach the poorest of the poor. There is also need for targeted investments in the poor and food insecure and the establishment of effective safety nets.
There have been real advances in recent years in targeting and delivering assistance more effectively, often by involving local communities in the design and implementation of targeted programs. But safety net programs are still costly, and there is need for better integration of relief with development efforts. The objectives of these efforts should include (a) helping the chronically poor and hungry in rural Africa find viable pathways out of poverty by helping them to accumulate assets such as land and credit; (b) reducing the vulnerability of poor and near-poor people to weather, markets and conflict-induced shocks; and (c) enhancing the capacity of countries to manage shocks that have regional and national impacts.
It is important to develop national capacities for food insecurity information systems to identify the chronically food insecure, their location, their livelihood systems and the nature and causes of their food insecurity and vulnerability. Such information is critical to efficiently design and target appropriate policies and interventions. Such information is also necessary to target food aid during crises.
Africa, unlike South Asia or Latin America, is fortunate that most countries have relatively equitable land distribution. East Asia also had relatively equal land distribution, which makes increasing crop yields a powerful anti-poverty instrument. What is unequal in Africa is farmers' access to new technology and access to both input and output markets. Although only a few countries in Africa (such as Zimbabwe and South Africa) have a land reform program, satisfactory resolution of this issue is crucial to future stability and food security. Land redistribution is a challenging political process. Market-mediated reforms have been tried, but the results are ambiguous at best.
There is a need for more secure tenure for smallholders to facilitate access to credit, so vital to technology adoption and productivity growth. Customary or usufruct tenure, while effective in traditional agriculture, does not confer the necessary 'ownership' to establish the required collateral with institutional credit institutions in the event of loan defaults. There are examples in Uganda where introduction of land titling has succeeded in this way while also protecting women's land rights. Hence land titling should be explored by countries to examine whether it could improve access of smallholders to credit. Land titling is distinct from land reform. With the increasing availability of information and communications technology such as satellite imagery, remote sensing, geographical information systems, and the global positioning system, there is now good scope to apply these to codify African land tenure.
Microfinance institutions have proved effective in providing services and increasing assets of the poor. They are valuable mainly for non-farm investment, however. Improving smallholders' ability to save and invest requires the development of an entire rural financial infrastructure that enables farmers to deposit and withdraw cash, receiving a competitive interest rate on their deposits and paying a competitive rate on their withdrawals.
The central goal is to assist the chronically poor through broad-based agricultural growth. Many small-scale farmers will need to diversify into high-value products to exploit their comparative advantage and to increase value added per person and per hectare. They will need to organize to obtain better access to markets and better terms in the market. Small-scale farmers, both male and female, should receive greater priority in agricultural research and extension and in credit programs.
Poor people have complex livelihood strategies, and agricultural development is rarely sufficient on its own to eliminate poverty. Increased investments in rural health, education and training, in conjunction with agricultural programs, combine to form a key tool to reduce vulnerability, because healthier and more educated people are usually able to adjust more quickly to changing circumstances. Multi-sectoral approaches to reduction of poverty and malnutrition are essential, involving the promotion of health, education and clean water, as well as increases in food supplies and non-farm sources of income.