New science blueprint for agriculture takes shape

New directions for harnessing science for agriculture to meet goals in innovation and social transformation have been proposed in a plan to promote efficiency and productivity in agriculture.

The Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa, or FARA, publicly discussed the new science agenda for agriculture for the first time at a meeting attended by more than 600 delegates – the 4th Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture, RUFORUM, held from 19-25 July in Maputo, Mozambique.

The Science Agenda for Agriculture in Africa, S3A, is a long-term strategic framework that stresses the importance of science, technology and innovation in driving agricultural development.

The agenda refers to the scientific knowledge, extension, innovation, policy and social learning Africa needs to apply in order to meet the continent’s evolving agricultural development goals.

It aims to persuade African leaders, policy-makers, research and science administrators, producer organisations and agribusiness entrepreneurs to take decisive and informed measures that would enable science to be instrumental in transforming agriculture.

Dr Yemi Akinbamijo, FARA’s executive director, told delegates that the plan would align all agricultural research for development actors – agricultural research institutes, national research stations and key stakeholders in agricultural education and related sciences – to promote food and nutrition security, wealth creation, strengthening the competitiveness of African agriculture and sustainability of natural resources.

“We will need to produce more from less land, less water, less fertiliser,” he said.

Akinbamijo said progress was too slow to achieve development targets and aspirations, and there were concerns about sustainability and the inclusiveness of recent growth gains – but science and technology would be instrumental in helping to change this.

Plans and pressures

One of the targets is ensuring food and nutrition security and becoming a global scientific player in agriculture and food systems by 2030.

The S3A science agenda, Akinbamijo said, would help Africa generate and adopt scientific outputs. It advocated the pursuit of science to address the needs of farmers and others along the value chain at different scales of operation, priority thematic areas, a more effective organisational structure, skills development and an environment within which science could be delivered.

According to the plan, the key drivers of agricultural transformation in Africa over the next three to four decades were likely to be trends in population growth, including rapid growth of the total population – at 2.5% per annum, the highest in the world.

Most African countries were expected to become more than 50% urban by 2030, and agriculture would need to respond to this and to rapid industrialisation. Climate change and natural resource degradation also needed a plan that prioritised critical investments.

Pressures from outside Africa that would be felt through markets or the changing global environment included increasing volumes of trade and demand for agricultural and non-agricultural goods, or through climate change resulting from cumulative and collective global carbon emissions.

Other pressures were anticipated to come from Africa’s internal socio-economic growth and evolution, and would be felt through population growth and the gradual evolution of consumption patterns in response to rising incomes and changing lifestyles.

Change needed

The plan says that efforts are being made by many African governments to address the challenge of agricultural and rural growth through the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme, or CAADP.

Still, the food, nutrition and income prospects for many poor Africans were likely to worsen in the light of rapid demographic changes, climate change and natural resource scarcities – unless policy changes and more investments were made.

Akinbamijo said that without significant interventions, Africa would fail to realise the enormous opportunities that existed to use its potential as a food producer, to unleash the continent’s development potential and to ease the concerns for future global food security.

The application of science and technology alone would not bring about necessary improvements in productivity or reduce the numbers of people who were food insecure. Complementary investments and policies would also be required to achieve sustainable productivity growth and reduce food and nutrition insecurity.

He said shared recognition among African leaders, development partners and players in the private sector that investment in agriculture delivered high returns both economically and socially, would propel the plan.

Countries, mostly in Africa, were expected to share knowledge and research facilities to better address common challenges that would increase African agricultural competitiveness.

Akinbamijo called for integrating higher education with agriculture.

He said governments and donors must expand investments in agricultural higher education to allow universities to increase the number and size of their masters and PhD programmes.

The agenda for science aligns with the Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa – STISA-2024 – adopted by heads of state at a summit in Equatorial Guinea in July. It too sets out a vision for the continent to use science, technology and innovation as tools to boost economic and social development.

The S3A is expected to be launched in Accra, Ghana, in November when FARA celebrates 15 years of existence.