African countries should allocate more funds to agricultural science, research and technology for the continent to bridge crop production gap and ensure food security, agriculture experts have said.
The experts expressed concern that most African countries have not met the targets of the 2003 Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP)’s Maputo declaration, requiring African countries to allocate at least 10 per cent of their national budget to agriculture.
And, according to the Africa Science Agenda for Agriculture, approved by African Heads of State and Government in Malabo in 2014, each African country should use at least one per cent of its public expenditure on agricultural research and development.
But actors in agricultural research and development who were attending a regional consultative workshop on rolling-out the Science Agenda for Agriculture in Africa (S3A) for East and Central Africa Region, last week, said that only Tunisia and South Africa have been able to meet targets.
The three-day workshop in Kigali concluded Friday.
The Agenda calls for a deeper application of science in agriculture as a means to transform the sector.
Raymond Jatta, the Programme Coordinator for Science Agenda Mainstreaming at Forum for Agriculture Reform in Africa, said that science and research as well as technology in agriculture have faced funding constraints, yet agriculture is major source of income for the majority of Africans and a key contributor to the continent’s economy.
“If 70 per cent of your people rely on agriculture, you should be putting a significant portion of your resources in that area,” he said.
“I think that the whole thing that needs to change is the budget architecture. We need to get some more money to these sectors where more people are engaged and one of those areas is definitely agriculture,” he said.
He observed that the experience in the world shows that, if you apply science, you have good seeds, improved seed varieties, a good transport system, then technologies and farmers are able to access those technologies.
“If you are able to use good innovations and good farming practices, yields can grow from the baseline of two tonnes per hectare to about seven tonnes per hectare for lots of crops such as staples like rice, and cereals in general,” he said.
The current average rice production in Rwanda stands at 5.5 tonnes per hectare, while some farmers harvest about seven tonnes per hectare, according to information from the Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB).
RAB’s head of research department, Patrick Karangwa, said that African governments need ownership and commitment to science, technology, innovation and research so that at least 1 per cent of the GDP is invested in the area.
“For us to have considerable impact and change, we should put in more efforts in extension systems and building the capacities of our farmers. The research we carry out should be more-targeted to solving issues facing farmers such as crop diseases,” he said, stressing the importance of giving incentives to researchers to ensure perfection in their research projects as well as work closely with farmers.
Biofortification and seed regulation
The Chairman of the Board of Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA), Ambrose Agona, called for governments’ commitments to a conducive environment for innovation, multiplication, commercialisation and dissemination of technologies.
Agona, who is also the Director General for Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO), said that when it comes to research, there is need for investments, and government commitment to finance research in a more predictable manner.
He said that sometimes there are quality seed varieties that are released by research institutions, but, because of inadequate and insufficient seed supply systems, there is an issue of fake seeds on the market as some deceitful dealers are selling ‘grains’ to famers instead of selling them ‘seeds’.
Agona added that the bio fortification technology in foods will help address hidden hunger among Africans, which is caused by micronutrient deficiency like lack of zinc, iron and vitamin A, which is very helpful to children below five and lactating mothers.
Participants drew from from Rwanda, Burundi, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, South Sudan, Tanzania, Eritrea, Uganda and Madagascar.
The S3A’s vision aimed to ensure Africa is food secure by 2030, a global scientific player, and the world’s breadbasket.