Seeding the Harvest

Image: Flickr, WorldFish
Image: Flickr, WorldFish

For two years 18 international experts in agricultural sciences and economics considered how to apply science and technology more effectively to respond to the central challenges of farming in Africa, which include: predominance of customary land tenure; lack of functioning competitive markets and politically enabling environments; and inherently poor soil fertility.

The panel’s recommendations follow:

Science and technology options that can make a difference

  1. Adopt a market-led productivity improvement strategy to balance supply and demand and enable farmers to respond better to price fluctuations.
  2. Adopt a production ecological approach with a primary focus on identified continental priority farming systems. This involves mixed and multiple cropping coincident with environmental conditions.
  3. Pursue a strategy of integrated sustainable intensification of production, ‘encompassing a simultaneous increase in the productivity of land, labour and other inputs, while minimising adverse environmental effects.’
  4. Bridge the divide between classical plant breeding and genetic modification.
  5. Recognise the potential of rain-fed agriculture and accord it priority.
  6. Reduce land degradation and replenish soil fertility.
  7. Explore integrated catchment strategies for natural resource management.
  8. Promote the conservation, sustainable and equitable use of biodiversity.
  9. Enhance the use of mechanical power.
  10. Embrace information and communication technology at all levels.
  11. Improve the coping strategies of farmers in response to environmental variability and climate change.

Building research, knowledge and development institutions

  1. Design and invest in national agricultural science systems that involve farmers in education, research and extension.
  2. Encourage institutions and mechanisms to articulate science and technology strategies and policies.
  3. Cultivate African centres of agricultural research excellence.
  4. Increase support for agricultural research and development.
  5. Strengthen international agricultural research centres.

Creating and retaining a new generation of agricultural scientists

  1. Focus on current and future generations of scientists in Africa.
  2. Broaden and deepen political support for agricultural science.
  3. Reform university curricula to incorporate ecological and  multidisciplinary approaches to agricultural study at the undergraduate level.
  4. Mobilise increased and sustainable funding for higher education in science and technology, minimising dependence on external donor support.
  5. Strengthen science education at primary and secondary school levels.

Markets and policies to boost income and food security

  1. Invest more in rural infrastructure.
  2. Expand market opportunities.
  3. Institute effective intellectual property rights regimes to encourage the private sector and facilitate public-private partnerships.
  4. Reduce barriers to increased African trade with OECD countries.
  5. Improve data generation and analysis related to agriculture, food and nutrition security, and vulnerability.

Engaging science and technology for the benefit of African agriculture