The Africa Green Revolution Forum—an international gathering of leaders from government, business, farmer groups, research, and development to help Africa realize its enormous potential for agricultural transformation—served as an ideal platform to launch ASTI’s new book, “Agricultural Research in Africa: Investing in Future Harvests.”
ASTI and the IFPRI-facilitated ReSAKSS program co-organized a side event at this global conference that brought together representatives from regional and international agricultural research and donor organizations to discuss the book, which lays out a comprehensive perspective on the evolution, current status, and future goals of agricultural research in Africa south of the Sahara.
Two of the book editors— ASTI’s Nienke Beintema and John Lynam from the World Agroforestry Center—opened the event with a highlight of the book’s findings.
The book’s messages about agricultural research in the region are both concerning and hopeful. Total agricultural research spending has been increasing, along with the number of researchers, but spending growth is uneven, underinvestment remains widespread, and external funding is volatile. In addition, human resource capacities in many countries have been hampered by aging and high turnover among research staff.
However, there are many opportunities that countries can capitalize on to move from a land-extensive to a high-efficiency production model. New technologies, more efficient market supply systems, expanded service deliveries and incentivized policy environments are already taking shape in many countries. And there are a number of existing platforms and networks to help countries make these changes, for example, the commitments to strategic and scientific plans by the African Union, African Development Bank, and the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA); efforts by the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) to expand higher education into West Africa; and of course the partnerships and support provided by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).
The floor then opened for a broad discussion by a panel of thought leaders and key players in Africa’s agricultural development, moderated by IFPRI Director for Africa Ousmane Badiane, also one of the book editors. The panelists— Augustin Wambo from NEPAD’s Planning and Coordinating Agency, Ernest Ruzindaza from the African Union Commission, Yemi Akinbamijo from FARA, and Heike Baumüller from the Center for Development Research at the University of Bonn (ZEF)—spoke about the actions required to unlock the potential of African science and technology.
The panelists cut through generalities and offered concrete suggestions: plan and formulate long-term fiscal budgets; consider the needs of farmers; study and learn from the success of the private sector; show the productivity impact of every research dollar; hold governments accountable with scorecards.
Representing the donor side, ZEF’s Heike urged governments to think more widely than just increasing productivity, reminding the audience that it is only a means to achieving the ultimate result of ending malnutrition.
Despite the challenges, attendees remained optimistic about the possibility of increasing agricultural productivity—and thus nutrition security and incomes—through research.
As FARA’s Akinbamijo summed up, “Improving productivity is not rocket science, but it requires science.”