African governments should fund agricultural research

Millet does well in semi-arid conditions. Ugandan researchers have developed varieties of the cereal which are drought tolerant and fast maturing. PHOTO / NATION MEDIA GROUP  

Thomas Jayne, a board member of the Regional Network of Agricultural Policy Research Institutes (ReNAPRI) once said: “African countries have for decades depended on research and innovations from the developed world markets that are in most cases not tailored to meet the unique needs and situations of the African continent.

"This must change, and to meaningfully do so, African governments must begin committing a greater part of their national budgetary resources to fund research, science, technology, and innovations that are home grown and driven and geared not only to make the continent become food secure, but also a net exporter of food.”
According to Prof Jayne, national agricultural research institutes and private organisations working in the area of agriculture in Africa, must increasingly collaborate and share research so as to stimulate agricultural development for sustainable growth.
In Africa’s rural communities, there are millions of stunted children as a result of malnutrition - a common phenomenon in rural communities where many households regularly spend a day without a meal. According to the 2013 Food and Agriculture Organisation world hunger and poverty statistics, 240 million people in Africa are currently hungry, producing and living on inadequate food, and are trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty.

However, there are some areas in Africa that regularly experiences bumper harvests of crops such as maize, wheat, beans, millet, sorghum, bananas, cassava, etc., and where animal husbandry is doing well, with farmers initiating various agricultural projects and utilising them to overcome poverty.
In rural communities where I have trained smallholder farmers in productive and profitable farming, farmers are eager to embrace science-led agriculture practices and are keen to be linked to markets, financial institutions and to acquire good quality seeds as well as post-harvest technologies to boost production. African governments should, therefore, invest more in science, technology and innovation strategies to adopt best agricultural initiatives.

Value addition
The National Semi Arid Resources Research Institute in Uganda, under its dry land cereal programme, has successfully developed two varieties of pearl millet, Serere Composite 1 & 11, which are drought tolerant and fast maturing. This millet is suitable for food, brewing and livestock fodder, and is currently being grown in dry areas of Uganda, including Karamoja region. Most arid and semi-arid areas in Africa are unutilised, and are often affected by famine and high levels of poverty, yet with scientific and agricultural technological innovations, this can be reversed.
In terms of value addition, Uganda established a banana processing enterprise to produce various products from bananas. While this is a good step, many countries have a long way to go. We should invest more in fruit processing enterprises in fruit producing areas and putting up modern abattoirs in animal keeping areas. This calls for more collaboration and linkages in technology, innovation and information sharing among African research institutes, scientists, innovators, policy makers and implementers if Africa is to unlock its agricultural potential.
African countries must also fund the generation of affordable IT and climate change mitigation technologies to minimise the negative effects of climate change on agriculture. We are living in a world where climatic conditions are fast changing. Farmers must, therefore, be given right information on when to plant, which crops to plant, when to apply fertilizers, as well as market prices all the time. In India, approximately five million farmers are given weather forecasts and advisories on their cell phones. In Uganda, Grameen Foundation project is providing some farmers with useful information on climate, when to harvest, and market prices through tailored tablet-based platforms.
Besides joint science, technology, and innovation collaborations, African countries must harmonise their agriculture and trade policies. African countries belong to different regional trade blocs such as the East African Community, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, Southern Africa Development Community, Economic Organisation of West African Community, among others. This negatively affects agricultural trade, which is further complicated by some countries having membership in more than one bloc.
Different trade policies affect farmers in different ways. While import and export restrictions may protect indigenous farmers and ensure food security, these restrictions may also keep many of them in poverty since they are not allowed to export and import freely to meet the skyrocketing demand of agricultural goods at the given moment.
Besides possessing 65 per cent of the world’s remaining arable land, Africa’s global comparative advantage is in the agricultural sector. Governments must seriously begin harnessing this opportunity by collaborating and committing more resources to science, technology and innovations that are developed by African institutions to meet the continent’s agricultural needs. Countries should also share information and harmonise their trade and agricultural policies that should be geared towards establishing vibrant trade.

Mr Hategeka is a governance researcher and public affairs analyst.

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