Science is key to agriculture advancement in Africa – Experts

Technological innovations through the use of science and research and diversifying investments in agriculture is one way to ensure that Africa cuts its food import bills and become a leader in the global food supply chain, agricultural experts have said.
A trainee in agriculture mechanisation engages in sowing maize seeds using a maize planting machine at IPRC South in Huye District. Emmanuel Ntirenganya.
A trainee in agriculture mechanisation engages in sowing maize seeds using a maize planting machine at IPRC South in Huye District. Emmanuel Ntirenganya.

Technological innovations through the use of science and research and diversifying investments in agriculture is one way to ensure that Africa cuts its food import bills and become a leader in the global food supply chain, agricultural experts have said.

The experts’ appeal comes at a time when, despite having land suitable for agriculture, Africa spends $35 billion importing food. According to the African Development Bank’s projections, this food import bill might even rise to $110 billion by 2025 if the status quo remains.

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A farmer inspecting his climbing beans ready for harvest. Courtesy.

Africa’s agricultural experts and activists argue that indeed, the continent is importing food that it should ideally be producing and even become ‘the world’s food basket’.

This situation is making the continent ‘impoverish itself as it is spending money on food imports that would actually enable it to create jobs for its people, especially the youth, and spur its economic growth.

Speaking during a Regional Consultation workshop on rolling-out the Science Agenda for Agriculture in Africa (S3A); held in Kigali this week, the experts contended that another area that should be funded is extension services.

They said farmers should be supported to access new farming technologies and seed varieties developed by the farming research stations and make sure that   the farmer maximizes the production potential.

The Director for Research and Innovation at the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), Dr. Irene Annor-Frempong said that the science agenda is the framework to deepening the application of science for the transformation of agriculture in Africa, which will ensure a sustainable, inclusive growth and shared prosperity as well as poverty reduction.

In their Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods, in 2014,the Heads of State and Government of the African Union, committed to ending hunger in Africa by 2025.

Again, they high leaders Commitment to halving Poverty by the year 2025, through Inclusive Agricultural Growth and Transformation,  and to create job opportunities for at least 30% of the youth in agricultural value chains.

To achieve that, they resolved among targets to accelerate agricultural growth by at least doubling current agricultural productivity levels, by the year 2025.

Dr. Irene Annor-Frempong said that Africa needs to speed up agriculture research so that its agricultural growth be well above its population growth.  

According to World Population Review, Africa had an estimated population of 1.2 billion people in 2016.

As per the World Bank, population in Africa is growing rapidly such that by 2060, it is projected to 2.8 billion people.

Yet, one person in four (or 23.2 per cent of the population) in Sub-Saharan Africa was undernourished in 2014–16, according to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates.

Appeal for science

Dr. Irene Annor-Frempong said that the mission of the science agenda is to make Africa food secure and a global food scientific player as well as the world’s food basket by 2030.

“But to make that, Africa needed or will need to double its total agricultural productivity and increase its investments in agriculture research,” she noted stressing that no country in the world has speeded up agriculture transformation without deploying applied science.

The experts also talked about the armyworm (pest) that has threatened and started to ravage cereal crops mainly maize- one of the continent’s staple food crops – saying that science and research can make the continent manage to tackle such pests as well as climate change effects on agriculture.

The Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB), Dr. Mark Cyubahiro Bagabe said that Africa uses technologies that are not advanced and has not enough scholars, the issues he said should be addressed for the continent to spur its agricultural and economic growth.

“We have land and water; but Africa has a problem of not doing timely research and that is why we are always ‘surprised’ where floods carry away land as there is no studied way to protect it; pests and diseases come and ravage crops,’ he said.

“We want therefore to set up mechanisms mainly through thinking of ways to change the way we deal with science,” he says.

He said that Rwanda is investing about 12 percent of agricultural budget into research, compared to less than 5percent in 2013, which he said is a god move forward.

The Chairman of the Board of Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA), Dr. Ambrose Agona said that science and technology application in agriculture are critical in increasing productivity.

“Much as we are moving on, you find that the increment in production is basically due to the expansion of agricultural land. But when you look at the way advanced countries are doing, is not actually opening up more land, but most likely intensifying agricultural productivity,” he said.

“And here we are talking about bringing the total factor productivity whereby you are using inputs at the same time you are monitoring on how best and how efficiently you are converting the inputs into outputs,” he said.

ASARECA is made up with 11 member countries namely Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.

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