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

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. More

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

Dropout rate at an all-time high in South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during 3-year civil war More

Tennessee Songbirds Fly Coop Long Before Tornadoes Arrive

Researchers say birds apparently alerted to danger by sounds at frequencies below range of human hearing 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.
US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportionali
X
Aru Pande
December 19, 2014 1:45 AM
The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportional

The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid