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Transforming agriculture in Africa

Africa is a richly diverse continent with a wealth of natural resources. Whilst Asia's green revolution has been well documented, Africa has struggled to keep up and one-in-three Africans remain undernourished. Growth of agricultural production has been - for the most part - minimal and any value gained from cash crops is reaped in importing countries and not in the country of origin. And yet agriculture remains the backbone of the African economy with improved productivity seen to be an important driver for growth and development. If Africa is to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of 2015, what then is required to transform agriculture in Africa?

At the General Assembly for the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) held in Johannesburg during June 2007, over 600 representatives, from donors, research institutes, private sector companies, and many others from across the continent, gathered to discuss the ways in which African agriculture can be made more productive and competitive in a global economy. New Agriculturist provides a selection of their viewpoints.

The starting point

Farmers recording their observations in a livestock farmer field school (Bruno Minjauw)
Farmers recording their observations in a livestock farmer field school
Bruno Minjauw

We need to start with what farmers are already doing, with their innovations and innovative ideas, and to support that. Researchers, extension staff and other development agents need to tune in to what is there on the ground and what is appropriate within the complex agro-ecological farming systems that smallholder farmers and livestock keepers are facing.
Monique Salomon, Co-ordinator, PELUM (Participatory Ecological Land-Use Management) in South Africa and member of the national steering committee of Prolinnova

It is extremely important that we talk more to the expected recipients of the technologies we are promoting. We need to learn a lot from them because we pretended to understand what they need but still we are not there. So the question of relevance, the question of ownership, the question of the capacity building... for them to ask the right questions from the providers is key.
Isaac Minde, Zimbabwe country representative for ICRISAT (International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics)

One of the core elements is to respect the smallholder farmers, to respect the intense efforts that they put in and then see how, through our formal knowledge and experience, we could collaborate with them, based on their knowledge of the particular environment and their circumstances, to transform their lives through scientific technological innovation.
Judith Ann Francis, Senior Programme Coordinator, Science and Technology Strategies for the CTA (Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation)

Strengthening the support systems

"To transform agriculture in Africa we therefore need to introduce the power of education into agriculture," says Glyvyns Chinkuntha (WRENmedia)
"To transform agriculture in Africa we therefore need to introduce the power of education into agriculture," says Glyvyns Chinkuntha

The best way to transform agriculture in Africa has to be with the local research institutes. They are the institutes that can go straight to the farmers, they can understand what the farmers need. But they should have full support from the government. Government has a very key role to play. They cannot just think that the money comes from Europe, or comes from somewhere else. They have to put some of their money to support this transformation.
Paulo Roberto Galerani, EMBRAPA (Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation), Africa Regional Office, Ghana

If we are to make any meaningful gains in agricultural productivity then we need policy reforms, to bring about a more effective national agricultural research system and also a more effective extension system. In particular, if we are to transform the agricultural sector, we need to change our policies to provide a more enabling environment to the smallholder farmers who contribute so much to agriculture in our countries.
Ephraim Mukisira, Director, KARI (Kenya Agricultural Research Institute)

Unfortunately, Africa's youth go to school to avoid farming, to avoid natural resource management. To transform agriculture in Africa we therefore need to introduce the power of education into agriculture. As long as we avoid agriculture the moment we go to school then there will be no revolution of agriculture on our continent.
Glyvyns Chinkuntha, Executive Director, Tikondwe Freedom Gardens, Malawi

Institutions, partnerships and links

You have to build partnerships; partnerships between scientists, between policymakers, between traders and farmers, so that at each stage people identify the roles they have to play along the entire chain from production to the market.
Professor Uzo Mokwunye, former Director, UNU-INRA (UN University Institute for Natural Resources in Africa)

Bringing actors together to promote action learning and value addition is the way forward in Africa. (WRENmedia)
Bringing actors together to promote action learning and value addition is the way forward in Africa.

You need proper institutions to engage appropriate stakeholders, design appropriate agendas and implement activities. It has a lot to do with policy. It has a lot to do with finances. It has a lot to do with capacity of researchers and farms as well. But ultimately, it means getting the right agenda, involving the relevant stakeholders in the process.
Nur Abdi, Civil Society Programme Officer, GFAR (Global Forum on Agricultural Research Secretariat)

We have tested the linear pipeline approach to technology generation and that has not helped us at all. The innovation system - bringing actors together to promote action learning and promote value addition along the chain from agricultural research right through to consumption, whilst promoting linkage to markets, linkage to policy issues - is the way forward for us in Africa.
Monty Jones, Executive Secretary, FARA (Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa)

We have realised that research is just one part of a complex web of relations which leads to social change. So linking up to other partners in what we now call an innovation system approach is a key dimension which we need to improve.
Carlos Sere, Director General, ILRI (International Livestock Research Institute)

Addressing the market

Selling sweet potatoes by the roadside in central Tanzania (WRENmedia)
Selling sweet potatoes by the roadside in central Tanzania

All the commodities we are growing with farmers should be market-oriented. In that way, we link farmers to markets and by increasing rural incomes we can transform agriculture in Africa.
Regina Kapinga, CIP (International Potato Centre)

Where we need to invest right now is on lowering the cost of marketing agricultural produce, enabling farmers to access both input and output markets. This requires that governments, the private sector and NGOs invest in infrastructure to lower the cost of marketing, and invest in making information available to farmers, to ensure that the products that farmers produce meet the attributes that consumers require.
Leonard Oruko, ASARECA (Association of Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa)

To achieve economic growth in Africa based on its tremendous agricultural resources we must promote a value chain approach, adding value to our products. We also need a well co-ordinated policy framework that focuses on the opportunities of emerging markets in Africa.
Joyce Cacho, Director, CCA (Agribusiness Initiatives Programme, Corporate Council on Africa)

It is important that we use our resources to focus on small producers to increase their productive capacity, but also ensuring that they are linked up to markets, including global markets.
Richard Mkandawire, Agricultural Advisor, NEPAD (The New Partnership for Africa's Development)

Farming needs financing

We need to begin to view the smallholder African farmer not as a subsistence farmer but as an agricultural entrepreneur because this is really what they are. They make investment decisions, they manage risks and they have to attend to many, many more needs than just the food needs that they have.
Mboko Bokanga, Executive Director, AATF (African Agricultural Technology Foundation)

A Kenyan farmer buys fertiliser for her crop (WRENmedia)
A Kenyan farmer buys fertiliser for her crop

The biggest hindrance is the income for growing the agribusiness. So what we are trying to see is how can we link up with developers, how can we link up with the financiers and ensure that we are able to promote this agribusiness for the smallholders among us. We can then be sure that our products are well packed, well presented and that we can sell them.
Lucy Muchoki, Private Sector Representative for FARA

Financing the agricultural sector by national governments is very critical. They must actually ensure that they commit themselves to increasing budget allocation to agriculture, as per their commitment in Maputo in 2003.
Richard Mkandawire, Agricultural Advisor, NEPAD

As long as people do not have ownership of the land they cannot use it as collateral to borrow money, and secondly they cannot develop it and they do not get anything back at the end of the day. So I believe that is the crucial component.
Paul Smit, Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, Republic of Namibia

Most of the time farmers do not have the means to buy either the fertiliser or the improved seed or such things, and even when they can buy them, when they have produced, some of them are frustrated because they cannot transport their product to the nearest market. So we think it is important to create a conducive environment, so that when the technologies are available, farmers can use them to produce, to sell, get revenues and feel happy.
Zuk Simon, Director General, NARI (National Agricultural Research Institute), Cameroon

Date published: July 2007


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