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

Thousands of Ethiopian Israelis Rally Against Racism

PM Netanyahu says he will meet Damas Pakada, the Ethiopia-born Israeli soldier who was filmed being beaten by two policemen More

Ten Migrants Drown in Mediterranean, 4,800 Rescued

All of those rescued are being ferried to Italian ports, with some arriving on Italy's southernmost island, Lampedusa, and others taken to Sicily and Calabria More

HRW: Saudis Using US Cluster Bombs in Yemen

Human Rights Watch says photographs, video and other evidence have emerged indicating cluster munitions have been used in 'recent weeks' in airstrikes in Houthi stronghold in northern Yemen 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.
From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil Wari
X
Henry Ridgwell
May 03, 2015 1:12 AM
Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil War

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video Rural Nepal Suffers Brunt of Quake’s Devastation

Nepal is still coming to grips with the full extent of the devastation and misery caused by last Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Some of the hardest-hit communities have been cut off by landslides making it difficult to assess the precise toll. A VOA News crew has been among the first to reach a few of the smaller, remote communities. Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Sindhupolchak district, east of Kathmandu, which suffered greatly in Nepal’s worst quake in more than 80 years.
Video

Video Black Families Use Baltimore Case to Revisit 'Police Talk'

Following Freddie Gray’s death in police custody this month, VOA interviewed black families throughout the eastern U.S. city of Baltimore about how they discuss the case. Over and over, parents pointed to a crucial talk they say every black mother or father has with their children. Victoria Macchi has more on how this conversation is passed down through generations.
Video

Video Middle East Atheist Channel Defies Taboo

In Egypt, a deeply religious country in a deeply religious region, atheism is not only taboo, it is dangerous. It is sometimes even criminal to publicly declare nonbelief. Despite the danger, one group of activists is pushing back with a new online channel that defends the right not to believe. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Nepal Quake Survivors Tell Their Stories

Against all hope, rescuers have found a few more survivors of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal last Saturday. Mountain climbers and hikers trapped in remote places also have been airlifted to safety, and aid is finally reaching people in the areas closest to the quake's epicenter. Survivors and rescuers are now recounting their experience. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Lessons for Germany, Europe Remain on Anniversary of WWII's End

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II will be marked May 8-9 in all European countries except Germany, which lost the war. How is the war viewed there, and what impact is it still having? From Berlin, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video 'Woman in Gold' Uses Artwork as Symbol of Cultural Identity

Simon Curtis’ legal drama, "Woman in Gold," is based on the true story of an American Jewish refugee from Austria who fights to reclaim a famous Gustav Klimt painting stolen from her family by the Nazis during World War II. It's a haunting film that speaks to the hearts of millions who have sought to reclaim their past, stripped from them 70 years ago. VOA's Penelope Poulou reports.
Video

Video Nepal Town Destroyed By Quake Counts Itself Lucky

Foreign search teams on Wednesday began reaching some of the communities outside Kathmandu that suffered worse damage than Nepal’s capital from last Saturday’s massive earthquake. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman is in Sankhu - a town of about 10,000 people - where there is relief the death toll is not higher despite widespread destruction.
Video

Video First Surgical Glue Approved for Use Inside Body

While medical adhesives are becoming more common, none had been approved for use inside the body until now. Earlier this year, the first ever biodegradable surgical glue won that approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on the innovation and its journey from academia to market.
Video

Video Somali Hotel Chain Owner Strives to Make a Difference

Many in the Somali diaspora are returning home to make a new life despite the continuing risks. Since 2011 when a military campaign against Al-Shabab militants began making progress, members of the diaspora community have come back to open hospitals, schools, hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Abdulaziz Billow in Mogadishu profiles the owner of a chain of hotels and restaurants who is helping to bring change to the once-deadly Somali capital.
Video

Video Study: One in Six Species Threatened with Extinction

Climate change is transforming the planet. Unless steps are taken to reduce global warming, scientists predict rising seas, stronger and more frequent storms, drought, fire and floods. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, a new study on species extinction underscores the need to take action to avoid the most catastrophic effects of rising temperatures.
Video

Video Taviani Brothers' 'Wondrous Boccaccio' Offers Tales of Love, Humor

The Italian duo of Paolo and Vittorio Taviani have been making movies for half a century: "The Night of the Shooting Stars," "Padre Padrone," "Good Morning, Babylon." Now in their 80s, the brothers have turned to one of the treasures of Italian culture for their latest film. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver reports.
Video

Video Child Migrants Cross Mediterranean Alone, Face Unknown Future

Among the thousands of migrants making the deadly journey by boat to Europe, there are unaccompanied girls and boys. Some have been sent by relatives to earn money; others are orphaned or fleeing war. From a shelter for young migrants in the Sicilian town of Caltagirone, VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Baltimore Riots Shed Light on City’s Troubled Past

National Guard troops took up positions Tuesday in Baltimore, Maryland, as authorities tried to restore order after rioting broke out a day earlier. It followed Monday's funeral of a 25-year-old black man who died while in police custody earlier this month. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Challenges Await Aid Organizations on the Ground in Nepal

A major earthquake rocked Nepal on Saturday and killed thousands, injured thousands more and sent countless Nepalese outside to live in makeshift tent villages. The challenges to Nepal are enormous, with some reconstruction estimates at around $5 billion. Aid workers from around the world face challenges getting into Nepal, which likely makes for a difficult recovery. Arash Arabasadi has the story from Washington.

Poll: Baltimore Police Charged

Poll archive

VOA Blogs