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Scientists Recommend Measures to Boost Farm Productivity in Africa - 2004-06-25

An organization created by 90 national science academies around the world, the InterAcademy Council, the I.A.C, has released a new report saying that better applications of science and technology can boost agricultural productivity in Africa and avert famine.

According to the I.A.C, nearly 200 million Africans are undernourished because of inadequate food supplies despite the continent's wealth of natural resources. The I.A.C report says no single technological advance can solve all the problems facing Africa's agricultural sector. Instead, the 18 experts who drafted the report recommend steps the scientific community can take working together with farmers, governments and businesses to increase agricultural productivity and reduce malnutrition.

The panel's leaders presented a copy of the report to United Nations' Secretary General Kofi Annan who asked the group to target famine in Africa.

"The series of food crises on the continent has brought home to us the urgent need for a strategy to break the pattern of recurring crises and bring about a 'green' revolution in Africa," he said. "To achieve this, we need to mobilize the best scientists the world has to offer."

The panel found Africa's agricultural sector is stymied by low investment, endemic diseases, malfunctioning markets and a so-called "brain drain". The report stresses that African governments and businesses must double the continent's investment in agricultural research and development. Panel member Rudy Rabbinge of the Netherlands says 50 percent of all African scientists who have training in agriculture are working outside Africa.

The second domain is building impact-oriented research, knowledge and development institutions. We have to cultivate African centers of African research excellence, building on international experience," he said. "We should try to maintain sufficient scientists in Africa and that is possible by creating more esteem and respect for scientific activities."

The study recommends that African leaders focus on agricultural systems that have already shown proven results, such as tree-based systems anchored in cocoa, coffee, oil palm and rubber and irrigated systems based on rice, cotton, cattle and poultry. The report also recommends reducing land degradation and increasing labor productivity by using mechanized tools.

Mr. Rabbinge says panel members believe the number of people suffering from malnutrition in Africa will be reduced 50 percent by the year 2015 if their recommendations are implemented.