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Can Africa feed itself?


AFRICA can move out of the deepening pit of poverty on the continent’s socio-economic fabric, Professor Calestous Juma asserts in a must-read on African agriculture.
The continent’s agriculture is at a crossroads, with persistent food shortages compounded by threats from climate change. The book illuminates three major opportunities that can transform Africa’s agriculture into a force for economic growth: advances in science and technology; the creation of regional markets; and the emergence of a new crop of entrepreneurial leaders dedicated to the continent’s economic improvement.
Aptly titled The New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation in Africa, the book is filled with case studies from within Africa and success stories from developing nations around the world. It outlines the policies and changes necessary to promote agricultural innovation across the continent.
“Incorporating research from academia, government, civil society, and private industry, the book suggests ways individual African countries can work together to develop local knowledge and resources, harness technological innovation, encourage entrepreneurship, increase agricultural output, create markets, and improve infrastructure,’’ information from the publishers, Oxford University Press, reads.
The book was inspired by pessimistic views on the future of African agriculture. The author is optimistic that Africa is in good stead to feed itself in one generation.
“The inspiration was to convey to the continent a positive message that we can feed ourselves. The focus of the book is the role of infrastructure in agricultural development. Poor investment in rural transportation, energy, irrigation, and telecommunications has affected sectoral growth. If you modernise infrastructure, then you can move produce to markets,’’ he said in setting the pace of the interview with this writer during a visit to Lusaka a few years ago.
Professor Juma is a professor of the Practice of International Development and director of the Science, Technology, and Globalisation Project at Harvard University. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Society, the United Kingdom’s scientific academy.
Accolades for the book include one from Goodluck Jonathan, the former president of Nigeria, who says: “This book presents a timely analysis of the importance of infrastructure in improving Africa’s agriculture. Leaders at national and state levels will benefit immensely from its evidence-based recommendations.’’
“The ‘New Harvest’ underscores the importance of global learning in Africa’s agricultural development. It offers new ideas for international cooperation on sustainable agriculture in the tropics,’’ Laura Chincilla, former president of Costa Rica, observed.
The book takes the reader on a conducted tour of The Growing Economy; Advances in Science, Technology, and Engineering; Agricultural Innovation System; Enabling Infrastructure; Human Capacity; Entrepreneurship; Governing Innovation; Climate Change, Agriculture, and Economy; and Entrepreneurial Leadership.
The book kick-starts by outlining the critical linkages between food security, agricultural development, and economic growth. It shines a light on why Africa has lagged behind other regions in agricultural productivity. This status could only about-turn with significant political leadership, investment, and deliberate policy efforts.
It endeavours to review major advances in science, technology and engineering, and identifying their potential for use in African agriculture. This exploration includes an examination of local innovation as well as indigenous knowledge encompassing information and communications technology, genetics, ecology, and geographical sciences. The book emphasises the convergence of these and other fields and their implications for African agriculture.
Positioning sustainable agriculture as a knowledge-intensive sector requires fundamental reforms in existing learning institutions, especially universities and research institutes, to integrate research, teaching, extension, and commercialisation.
“There is urgent need to invest in agricultural research universities in order to move African agriculture forward. Research and training should be strengthened in order to achieve success. Boosting support for agricultural research is part of a larger agenda to promote innovation,’’ Professor Juma enthused.
It is important to provide an enabling infrastructure for agricultural development. Modern infrastructure facilities need to reflect the growing concern over climate change. In this regard, there is need to design ’’smart infrastructure’’ to take advantage of advances in the engineering sciences as well as ecologically-sound systems design.
“Infrastructure promotes agricultural trade and helps integrate economies into world markets. It is also fundamental to human development, including the delivery of health and education services. Infrastructure investments further represent untapped potential for the creation of productive employment,’’ the book reads in part.
“The main reason why we have such poor infrastructure is that we have not invested in the training of engineers. We need to invest in the development of engineering, including that [which is] related to agriculture,’’ Professor Juma observed.
Human capacity is integral to agricultural development through access to methods of improving techniques, increasing production, and gaining the ability to transform the sector into an income-earning endeavour. By so doing, African nations would benefit in terms of GDP, standard of living, infrastructure and economic stability. There should be more investment in agricultural training from primary up to tertiary level.
The creation of agricultural enterprises represents one of the most effective ways to stimulate r u r a l development. African countries and regional bodies should create incentives to stimulate entrepreneurship in the agricultural sector, taking into account information and communication technologies and explore how they can be harnessed to promote entrepreneurship.
“The development of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) has been an integral part of the development of all industrialised economies. This holds true in Africa. Building these enterprises requires development of pools of capital for investment; of local operational, repair, and maintenance expertise; and of a regulatory environment that allows small businesses to flourish,’’ the book stresses.
It is a fact that African agriculture could benefit from regional economic integration as the surest route to stimulate economic growth and expand local markets. Regional integration is a key component of enabling agricultural innovation because it dismantles three barriers to development: weak national economies; a dependence on importing high-value or finished goods; and a reliance on a small range of low-value primary exports, mainly agriculture and natural resources.
“There is lack of commitment to agricultural development on the continent at the highest level. We need the involvement of heads of state in the sector’s coordination. This is the missing link that needs attention. More investment in infrastructure is necessary and agriculture should be placed at the centre of the African economic development agenda. Agricultural policies should be long-term and consistent. Only then would Africa be lifted out of poverty and sustainable development enhanced,’’ he advised.
This book provides policy-relevant information on how to align science, technology and engineering missions with regional agricultural development goals. Agriculture needs to be viewed as a knowledge-based entrepreneurial activity.
It explores the role of rapid technological innovation in fostering sustainability, with special emphasis on sustainable agriculture. It provides illustrations from advances in information technology, biotechnology, and nanotechnology.
There is need to strengthen rural innovation systems, develop effective clusters that can add value to unprocessed raw materials, and promote value chain across such diverse sectors as horticulture, food processing and packaging, food storage and transportation, food safety, distribution systems, etc.
In summary, the book underscores the fact that a new economic vision for Africa’s agricultural transformation is on the horizon by placing emphasis on emerging opportunities such as renewing infrastructure, building human capabilities, stimulating agribusiness development, and increasing participation in the global economy. Indeed the new harvest for Africa is here!
The author is a freelance journalist, media and public relations consultant.

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