IFAD president Kanayo Nwanze (left) with ILRI director general Jimmy Smith at the 6th Africa Agriculture Science Week (AASW6), in Accra, Ghana, 15–20 Jul 2013, organized by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).
This blog post was written by ILRI corporate communications writer/editor Paul Karaimu.
‘Researchers and policymakers in Africa must focus their efforts on supporting smallholder farming. A sustainable smallholder agriculture sector will not only feed more people on this continent but also reduce poverty’, Kanayo Nwanze, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, said last week.
Nwanze, who chairs an expert panel on the Science Agenda for Africa, gave a keynote address, ‘African agricultural development: Opportunities and challenges’, at the sixth Africa Agriculture Science Week (AASW6) hosted by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) in Accra, Ghana, 15–20 Jul 2013.
The ‘golden age’ of Africa’s agricultural development
He began by looking back. ‘When I think about African agricultural development today, I cannot help but remember how promising things looked some 30 to 40 years ago. At the time, we felt we were at the start of a golden age for African agriculture. We had universities with agricultural faculties, research centres and research stations we could be proud of. Our graduates at universities in—Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal and Uganda— were some of the best in the world, and students came from abroad to study here. . . . In the sixties and seventies, many African countries were net exporters of major food and cash crops, not importers as they are today. About 20 per cent of national budgets at that time went to agriculture. It felt like Africa was on the cusp of eliminating poverty and hunger, and taking its place in the world of research and development.’
‘[Y]ears of under-investment and an ill-advised structural adjustment’, Nwanze said; ‘The resulting waste of so much human life and potential is not only tragic, it is a disgrace because there is simply no reason for it.
Agriculture—spanning crop production, fishing, livestock, forestry and pasture—has driven economic growth through the centuries, from 18th-century England, to 19th-century Japan, to 20th-century India, to Brazil, China, South Korea and Viet Nam today. We know what needs to be done. And we know what can be done.—Kanayo Nwanze, IFAD president
The good news
Reporting on the good news about Africa’s potential for agricultural development, Nwanze said: ‘Africa has the largest share of the world’s uncultivated land with rain-fed crop potential. Unlike many other parts of the world, in Africa there is room for agriculture to expand.
Demand exists and is growing, not only for raw, primary produce but also higher-end food products. And there is growing foreign interest in the untapped potential of Africa’s fertile land. Added to this many African countries are doing well economically with GDP growth rates above five per cent; new oil finds across the continent; and an abundance of mineral wealth. So indeed, we do not lack the resources to support agriculture and agricultural research.—Kanayo Nwanze, IFAD president
‘Small farms account for 80 per cent of all farms in sub-Saharan Africa’, Nwanze reported. ‘In some countries, they contribute up to 90 per cent of production. They have the potential to be key suppliers to Africa’s burgeoning urban markets as well as supplying rural markets.’
In addition, he said, in sub-Saharan Africa, ‘growth generated by agriculture is eleven times more effective in reducing poverty than GDP growth in other sectors. Successful small farms can create vibrant rural economies with a range of non-farm enterprises, providing a variety of jobs, decent incomes and food security.’
New road needed
With these issues in mind, Nwanze asked, ‘Do we want to get back on the road that we left in the 1970s, or do we need a new road?’
He pleaded for ‘a new road’, one that ‘reposition[s] research and development so that it is research for development. This means measuring our results not by higher yields alone but also by reduced poverty, improved nutrition, cohesive societies and healthy ecosystems. In short, it must be inclusive.’
With appropriate policies and investments, he said, Africa’s ‘under-performing agricultural system’ can bring about food and nutritional security throughout the continent.
Efforts by African nations to invest in agriculture for growth were encouraging, Nwanze said, but he argued that much more needs to be done. And he cautioned that ‘technology is only a tool. It is not an end in itself. As a scientist, I understand the excitement of new discoveries. But as a development practitioner I have seen the miracles that take place when we give farmers the tools to enhance existing—and sometimes quite traditional technologies.’
On the role of women in Africa feeding Africa, Nwanze reminded his audience that ‘About half of sub-Saharan Africa’s agricultural labour force are women. Yet too often women are the most disadvantaged members of rural societies. To farm successfully, women need agricultural resources and inputs, as well as access to rural finance, education and knowledge. They also need rights to the land they farm and a voice in the decisions that affect their lives.’
And he reminded the audience that ‘Agriculture is not just crops alone, and science can also lead to productive livestock and crop integration, aquaculture and fish-crop farming and ways of generating income through agriculture while also meeting nutritional needs.
Development is something people do for themselves. Our challenge is to take what we know works, to develop what we know is needed, and to apply our knowledge, country-by-country, region-by-region.—Kanayo Nwanze, IFAD president
‘If we do this, Africa will not only feed itself, it will also contribute to global food security, economic growth and peace and stability. . . .
Agriculture holds the key to Africa’s development, and development holds the key to a future where Africa is not only feeding itself, but feeding the world.
Read a transcript of Kanayo Nwanze’s whole statement.
Read more on the ILRI blogs about AASW6
NEPAD’s Ibrahim Mayaki makes the case for investing in Africa’s agricultural research for development, 23 Jul 2013