How to feed African agriculture

Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

Two hundred and twenty-seven million of the world's chronically hungry live in Africa. This translates to about 30% of this group.

Seven out of 10 people living in sub-Saharan Africa are farmers (compared with the US, where the ratio is two out of a 100)  and yet Africa has to rely on imports and food aid to feed itself. Although it is the poorest continent in the world, it spends about $50bn a year buying food from rich countries. Africa will be able to feed itself by 2030  an ideal that will only be attainable by accelerating the rate of innovation and access to agricultural extension services for smallholder farmers.

Sub-Saharan Africa is considered the "youngest" region, although the majority of this younger population remains unemployed and their skills underutilised. Sixty percent of the continent's unemployed are aged 15-24 years and about 40% of Africa's workforce is under the age of 23.

Science can and should drive transformation of agriculture in Africa. Science contributes towards making agriculture in Africa more productive, competitive, sustainable and inclusive. Scientific solutions for agricultural transformation need to be pursued further, while recognising the fragility of African environments, its rich biodiversity and the complexity of the agricultural production systems. Transforming Africa's agriculture requires a science system that produces both technical and institutional innovations. Encouragingly, political support for African agricultural development and the role therein of science, technology and innovation has reached an apex on the continent.

READ MORE-  Africa indigenous fruit trees offer major benefits. But they’re being ignored

This impetus for science-driven agriculture in Africa requires innovative educational and training approaches that are more strongly connected to the new challenges facing rural communities and build the capacity of young people and especially women, to be part of the transformation of the agricultural sector. Ultimately, science and innovation have to be mainstreamed as an essential part of agriculture-led social and economic transformation in Africa. But despite the plethora of programmes and initiatives, as well as significant investment, the results of the transformation of African agriculture to date have not met expectations. This can be attributed in part to a lack of coordination between initiatives and role players and the fragmented nature of the approach to change.

The past three years have brought about developments that hold promise for a more focused and coordinated attempt at effecting the needed change.

The first is the articulation of the AU's vision for the continent, Agenda 2063, which envisages "an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena". The long-term vision thus takes into consideration the reality of where the continent is today and the complexity of moving towards the future.

The Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA-2024) has prioritised food and nutrition security and the eradication of hunger.

Over the next 10 years, the agricultural agenda within Agenda 2063 will be primarily driven by the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP)  an agreement between heads of state and government. CAADP recognises Africa's capacity to generate knowledge, foster learning and enable skills development among its workforce as a game changer to reshape African agriculture.

The outsourcing of science for agriculture in Africa is no longer an option. African leaders  in science and government  must take responsibility for the role of science on the continent. Taking cognisance of the critical role of science and agriculture in the global sustainable development agenda, it is now an opportune time for Africa to make its mark as a player in global science. African solidarity for science is the most significant strategy in achieving the vision, which is articulated in the Science Agenda for African Agriculture (S3A).

The core of the agenda is to connect science with end users in a more effective way for the benefit of society. This will be accomplished in several ways including identifying the broad areas of science to be developed in partnership with the main stakeholders; facilitating the necessary transformation and strengthening of national science and technology institutions; focusing on the need for human capacity building at all levels; facilitating increased funding from diversified sources to support science; facilitating alignment of actions and resources to ensure value-for-money and impact; facilitating partnerships between mandated African institutions at sub-regional and regional levels and between these actors and their external partners; committing to solidarity in science by sharing information, technologies, information facilities and staff in pursuit of common challenges and opportunities and creating a favourable policy environments for science.

These actions will lead to more harmonised investments and approaches to support agricultural science by national governments and regional and global development agency partners to accelerate food production. A more productive, efficient and competitive agriculture sector is critical to improve rural economies, where the majority of the population in Africa live. The future of Africa depends on agriculture.