Sub-Saharan Africa’s long-term food security faces a number of threats. A new report recommends speeding up agricultural productivity, but says a doubling of investment in research and development would be needed. The findings were released at the Forum for Agricultural Research conference in Johannesburg (11/26-28).
The report is called Taking Stock of National Agricultural R&D Capacity in Africa South of the Sahara. It lists high population growth, deteriorating soil conditions, climate change and high prices as risk factors to food security.
At the 2009 L’Aquila G8 Summit, leaders pledged their support for food security amid a global crisis that saw high prices and less access to food in many poor countries. In a joint statement, they said, “There is an urgent need for decisive action to free humankind from hunger and poverty. Food security, nutrition and sustainable agriculture must remain a priority issue on the political agenda.”
Gert-Jan Stads is one of the authors of the new study and senior program manager with IFPRI, the International Food Policy Research Institute. He said since L’Aquila, investment in agricultural has improved.
“Investments have definitely increased since then and there’s been increased donor interest in agricultural research, but also, and more importantly, increased government interest -- African governments themselves – in increasing investments. Since the turn of the Millennium, agricultural research investments actually increased by nearly 50-percent across Africa.”
But that investment, he said, has been uneven.
“If you actually look at the breakdown by country you see that that growth is driven by just a handful of larger countries and that many of the smaller countries are actually lagging behind – reporting no growth whatsoever or in some cases even negative growth,” he said.
Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya are responsible for most of the growth in agricultural research in Africa.
Stads says smaller countries that lag behind may have weaker economies and are not able to make the big investments that are needed.
“Having said that, it’s not like that every single small country is lagging behind. There are also examples of small countries where governments do recognize the importance of agricultural research. But generally speaking we do find that the larger countries have reported larger growth and are really investing more than some of the smaller countries. And the problem is particularly severe in Francophone West Africa where we found that many countries are really decreasing their research investments,” he said.
The donor investment surge that began in 2009 has waned somewhat as countries recover from the global financial crisis. The IFPRI official also said donor funds that were given could have been better spent by some African countries.
Stads said, “Areas that definitely need improvement are the actual cost of R&D programs. What we see in a lot of countries is that governments spent a lot purely on salaries of agricultural researchers, but not a lot on any of the required infrastructure upgrades or the actual research programs. In many countries more than 80-percent of total government funding is actually going towards staff salaries leaving hardly anything for actual research programs themselves.”
But despite much of the money going towards salaries, the paychecks are small. So countries may not attract the best agricultural workers – or lose them to countries or institutions that pay well.
“That’s a very, very big reason for brain drain in African agricultural R&D; and that’s definitely an issue that needs to be resolved by policymakers in those countries,” he said.
Another key finding in the report is that “women scientists remain grossly underrepresented in agricultural research and development.”
Stads said, “The majority of farmers in Africa are actually women. And female scientists are in a unique position to respond to the specific challenges of these female farmers. If you have a whole group of male scientists responding to the needs of female farmers, there are very often communication issues or cultural issues. Female farmers tend to trust female scientists more to explain their problems to – especially in certain countries that are very male dominated.”
The report adds that “donor dependency and funding volatility remain critical in many countries.” It says that may lead to only short-term goals being set that “are not necessarily aligned with national or regional priorities.” Stads says, “Addressing these R&D challenges will be critical to enhancing future agricultural productivity.”
The report was produced by IFPRI’s Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators program. It’s part of the Science Agenda for Agriculture in Africa that was launched at the Johannesburg conference.