Monday, July 19, 2010

Agriculture: Need for paradigm shift in Africa

By Ochieng’ Ogodo

[Nairobi] Application of knowledge and appropriate technology is critical for increased agricultural productivity for the rural poor in the developing world, especially Africa, Emanuel Tambi, Economist, Senior Policy Officer, Rural Economy Division at the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa has said.

This should be the new paradigm shift in agricultural growth in the developing world, especially in Africa, where majority of the rural poor depend on it as source livelihood and somewhat economic empowerment.

“In order to successfully meet challenges of globalization, developing countries, in general, and Africa, in particular, must place science and technology at the heart of their development policy,” he said.

He, however, recognized that, as continent with countries having primarily agriculture economies, Africa is confronted with limited human and material resources in scientific and technological fields, and therefore has problem incorporating science and technology into its development policies.

It is for this that his department is currently working with Regional Economic Communities, members states, research institutes such as International Livestock Research Institute and IFPRI, civil society organisations as well as development partners to move forward the agenda for research and technology.

Professor Kwadwo Asenso-Okyere, IFPRI’s director for International Service for National Agricultural Research Division said in many parts of the developing world, mostly Africa, agriculture plays an important role in national development in terms of employment and national wealth creation.

The pervasive poverty in many parts of these countries cannot be tackled sufficiently without paying attention to production and market development for agricultural products.

To cope with the demand factors and emerging global issues, actors in the food and agriculture value chain need to innovate to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

“The good news is that there has been steady progress in African agriculture over the last few years with growth rates increasing from 2 percent per annum in the 1990s to about 5 percent in the 2000s,” he told the forum.

But to sustain this, Okyere stated, there is need for extraction of economic, ecosystem and social value from knowledge which involves putting ideas, knowledge and technology to work in a manner that brings about a significant improvement in performance.

A lot of knowledge, he explained, already exist and can be used to improve the livelihoods of the smallholder farmer in the rural settings where more than 50 percent depend on agriculture.

But there are no proper linkages for knowledge mobility from institutions of learning, research and different actors to get innovation to work to advance food and agriculture and this call for new approaches to capacity building.

The first stage of capacity building development, he pointed out, should be at the universities or institutions of higher learning to make them innovate and become efficient.

“It has been demonstrated that students retain 90 percent of concept or method if they teach others, 75 percent if they practice by doing, 50 percent if they are involved in a discussion but only five percent through lectures,” he said.

Scientists and students should talk to farmers and see how best they could infuse their [farmers] indigenous knowledge with those in formal educational systems and pass it on for accelerated agricultural production in the developing world.

The next level of capacity building is that of farmers to make them adopt new knowledge and technologies as well as improve on the existing ethnic agricultural knowledge to step up agricultural growth for food and poverty reduction.

Okyere also said for knowledge to be generated and used effectively for innovation in agricultural development there must be innovators in organizations, institutions, technologies and policies that are involved in the process.

Joachim Von Braun, Director of IFPRI challenged Africa and the rest of the developing world to develop their basic science, build practical technical education programmes on agriculture at higher institutions of learning and tap into existing indigenous knowledge to improve agricultural production for food security and wealth creation for the rural poor.

“Agriculture is a major source of employment in the developing world and also a vital source of food for majority of rural populations,” said Braun

Yet agricultural education and research is not being felt on the ground because of lack direct connection between scientists, students and the smallholder farmer who needs knowledge to adopt innovative methods of farming for increased yields.

Most agriculture students, he explained, do have practical experience and thus the big gap between knowledge and innovation and reality on the ground in the end. Africa, he told meting should make agriculture part of its higher education technical programme as one of the means in innovatively addressing food insecurity and poverty reduction in rural settings.

It should be part of the learning process right from secondary education level and Africa should also build up its basic science and not keep knocking on the doors of the western institutions for solutions.

Africa and the developing world must build their own biological, physical and chemistry sciences and use that knowledge at all levels of food and agricultural systems,” said Braun.

**Ochieng’ Ogodo is a Nairobi journalist and the Sub-Saharan Africa News Editor for .He is the English-speaking Africa and Middle East region winner for the 2008 Reuters-IUCN Media Awards for Excellence in Environmental Reporting. He can be reached at or

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