A new Millennium Development Goal (MDG) report indicates that countries in the region have in recent years given more attention to the services sector at the expense of agriculture yet the latter employs more than 80 per cent of the poor people.
The report, released by the African Development Bank (AfDB) and United Nations Economic Conference on Africa (Uneca), shows that recent rapid economic transformation had failed to improve the living conditions for most East Africans largely because agriculture, which is key to poverty reduction, had been ignored.
The report came hot on the heels of a meeting of more than 100 agronomists, policy makers, business leaders, farmers and development partners from across the continent, in Kigali, that sought to explore ways of accelerating agriculture transformation in Africa.
Indeed delegates called for more investments in the agriculture sector.
While more investment in the sector is vital, there is need for academics to get more involved especially through essential research in rural poverty and the food and agriculture business, since this has a bearing on small-scale producers.
We can use academic research to understand and improve the life of rural populations. The most pressing issues in the fight against hunger and rural under-development are food insecurity, nutrition deficiencies and unfair competition between small-scale and large food producers.
Institutions of higher learning need to enhance agricultural research to inform the decisions of policy makers with regard to this critical sector.
Academics should also examine how best to integrate small-scale farmers into the value addition chain and help them access markets without necessarily depending on exploitative middle men.