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Faustin Mwape

Faustin Mwape argues for more emphasis on applying existing appropriate technologies
Faustin Mwape argues for more emphasis on applying existing appropriate technologies

Research for results

Faustin Mwape, Agricultural Advisor, for the NEPAD Secretariat, argues for more emphasis on applying existing appropriate technologies and focusing new research on those problems that emerge from the implementation process.

Over many years, research has developed technologies designed to boost the performance of agriculture, still the most important sector in the economies of almost all African countries. Yet technologies remain 'on the shelf', the performance of the agricultural sector in Africa remains well below expectations and many people continue to face high levels of poverty (70 per cent) and malnutrition (20 per cent); food aid to Africa is 50 per cent of World Food Programme budget and food imports cost $18 billion per year.

It's been said before that research should be judged by outcomes, and I would agree with that. But it has also been suggested that too much research has been short-term and that a more long-term vision is needed. This is true to a point, but what I feel is that there are many immediate pressing problems that demand immediate response, and we have technologies that could address these. But to be effective these technologies need to be communicated to the people in need: it is clear that there should be much greater emphasis on the communication and delivery of appropriate existing technologies.

There are, for example, existing technologies for boosting the yield of our main staples, cassava, maize and rice. Scientific skills and funding have given us the results, and these deserve to be implemented, where appropriate. This must be the priority rather than just continuing to generate new technologies. We are not saying, "Stop research." No, we believe that we should focus on delivering existing technologies and that we should focus new research on the problems that emerge from the implementation process. Because of the time limitation that we have in terms of attaining the Millennium Development Goals (which are in response to the pitiful condition of so many people), our priority must be on getting existing appropriate technologies to the needy as quickly as possible.

A change in perspective

It could be said that this requires a change in perspective from the agricultural research community and from governments. A very short time ago I would have had to admit that there seemed little prospect for winning the commitment of governments, both in Africa and in donor countries. But if we look at the announcements by President Bush and Prime Minister Blair in Washington before the Gleneagles G8 meetings and the outcome of Gleneagles itself, the indicators are very positive; if those messages are a true reflection of our development partners, they show political commitment. As for African governments, at the AU 2003 Summit in Maputo, Mozambique, they adopted a resolution to increase government allocation to the agricultural sector to at least 10 per cent of the annual budgets in member countries.

As African scientists we have the knowledge and experience of what will and will not work and we have the responsibility of advising our political leaders on the necessary investments and choice of technologies that can have a positive impact on the lives of our rural people and on the national economy also. We now need to sit down and decide how to prioritise the spending of the new funding that has been promised.

I recently attended a conference* in Cambridge, UK (22-23 September 2005), presenting a paper "The case for the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP)". We were able to give the assurance that NEPAD is convinced that we now have a unique opportunity to develop African agriculture and that CAADP has the declared support of development partners to lead the process.

Communication priorities

Advocacy is a major function of the NEPAD Secretariat and we are very much aware that it is vital to ensure that success stories are brought to the attention of policy-makers. Success stories need to be promoted to demonstrate that investments in agricultural research have pay-offs. In this, we value the people in the media; we value the electronic media particularly because they are serious partners in delivering our messages. What we would like to see is capacity-building for the media so that they can better appreciate the technical discussions that they report on.

Finally, international partnerships and networks, such as those developed through the DFID programmes, offer the means to promote best practice in a cost-effective and efficient manner, and collaboratively to find solutions to the major agricultural constraints facing development now and in the future. We should be judging our success by the technologies that are making a difference and asking why other technologies are not making a difference on the ground.

*Pathways out of Poverty conference organised by Association of Applied Biologists in collaboration with four DFID-funded research programmes (Crop Protection, Crop Post-Harvest, Plant Sciences and Livestock Production)

Date published: November 2005


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