News / Africa

Africa's Hungriest Need Better Agricultural Research

A breeder checks on the health status of conserved maize germplasm in Ibadan, Nigeria.
A breeder checks on the health status of conserved maize germplasm in Ibadan, Nigeria.

Multimedia

Audio

A new study of sub-Saharan Africa finds serious shortcomings in the scientific research capabilities needed to improve the region's agricultural production. Rates of hunger in sub-Saharan Africa today are the highest in the world.

Addressing that hunger problem is complicated by a host of emerging issues, including food price volatility, growing population, water scarcity and climate change, says Nienke Beintema with the International Food Policy Research Institute. "There's more demand on better technologies or different technologies to address these issues."

Studies show investing in agricultural research and development is among the best ways for developing countries to reduce hunger and poverty.

So Beintema studied funding and staffing levels at 370 research institutes run by governments, universities, producer organizations or others in 32 African countries.

Good news, bad news

The good news is, research investment in sub-Saharan Africa increased by 20 percent overall from 2001 to 2008.

The bad news is, the increase took place mainly in just five countries: Ghana, Tanzania, Sudan, Uganda, and Nigeria. Spending actually declined in 13.

And Bientema says where spending increased, it often only served to make up for years of serious neglect.

In Nigeria, for example, which accounted for a third of the increase, Bientema says, "It's a positive sign because it is more commitment from the government. But Nigeria had extremely low levels of agricultural research funding. I was there for the first time in 2000 or 2001. And I visited institutes that could not function. They even didn't have a phone line, or they didn't have gas for the cars, one computer that didn't work."

National investments, donor funding

Nigeria currently has the region's largest agricultural research system. However, she says, a better measure is whether a country is investing at least one percent of the output of its agricultural sector on research. Only eight countries met that mark in 2008. Nigeria was not one of them.

Furthermore, Bientema says, most countries depend too much on funding from international donors. These funds
"are always very specific, focused on a certain area. And they are short term," she adds. "They are often 3, 4 or 5 years.

"And donors often don't have an exit strategy," Bientema adds. So when the funding ends, often times the research does, too.

Human resources

But funding is just part of the picture.

"Even if you put more money in it, there is still the issue of human capacity," she says.

Many countries did not hire new researchers for years because of budget constraints. Now, the lack of younger scientists is becoming a problem as older researchers approach retirement age.

For example, Bientema says, at Niger's leading agricultural research center, 60 percent of the researchers are at least 50 years old.  

"And as retirement age in most countries is around 60, it means that within 10 years 60 percent are retiring," she says. "And these older researchers are often the ones with PhDs or master's degrees, with a lot of experience and knowledge."

Bientema says countries need to improve their higher education systems to produce more qualified researchers. And they need to invest more money in their national research systems -- and more of their own money, rather than depending on donor funds.

New commitment to agriculture?

After sharp spikes in food prices in 2007 and 2008, agriculture is higher on the priority list for foreign aid donors and for many African countries. Twenty-five countries have signed an agreement to commit at least 10 percent of their national budgets to agriculture.

But Bientema says it's too soon to say whether those commitments will translate into action. She points to two of the countries that have increased spending on agricultural research in recent years.

"With the new elections in Uganda, most of the government officials that were in support of science actually were not re-elected," she says. "So the question is, will this commitment continue? In Nigeria, they actually had a serious cut in the science budget. So, that shows you how commitments can change very quickly."

Beintema adds that the private sector may be able to step in when national governments cut spending. For example, she notes, producer cooperatives in some countries raise revenues from cash crops like cocoa, coffee or tea to fund research. In some cases, these funds can spill over into research into other important crops as well.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

America's Most Exotic Presidential Pets

From alligators to bears, the White House has been home to some unusual presidential pets over the years More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugeesi
X
Carolyn Weaver
July 06, 2015 6:47 PM
In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.

VOA Blogs