Agricultural research uplifts lives

A yam trader happily showing off his ware. With appropriate agricultural infrastructure, input, and policy support, Africa can indeed feed itself. Photo by IITA.
A yam trader happily showing off his ware. With appropriate agricultural infrastructure, input, and policy support, Africa can indeed feed itself. Photo by IITA.

A study on the impact of agricultural research on productivity and poverty in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) that we completed this year has shown that agricultural research has a direct positive impact on poverty, reducing the number of poor people in the region by as much as 2.3 million annually.

According to the study, in view of the long-term research investments and demonstrated successes in SSA, our own R4D work is helping uplift the lives of about 500,000 to one million poor people in the region per year.

The study, authored by Arega Alene, Impact Assessment Economist, and Ousmane Coulibaly, Agricultural Economist, also estimated that the aggregate rate of return to agricultural research in the region runs as high as 55 percent.

However, the study cautions that the actual impacts are not large enough to offset the poverty-increasing effects of population growth and environmental degradation in the region.

The study, which has been published in the journal Food Policy, further demonstrated that doubling investments in agricultural R&D in SSA from the current US$650 million annually could reduce poverty in the region by two percentage points per year. However, the study adds that this projected drop in poverty would not be realized unless existing extension, credit, and input supply systems become more efficient.

The study also established that agricultural research had contributed significantly to productivity growth in SSA, with the highest payoffs noted in Ghana, Cameroon, Nigeria and Ethiopia. This is attributed to sustained investments in building national research capacity, long-term operations of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), North Face Jacket Sale UK and regional technology spillovers. Work by the CGIAR contributed about 56% of the total poverty reduction impact in the sub-region.

Despite the contributions of agricultural research, the study notes that SSA faces several unique constraints outside the research realm that hinder the realization of potential benefits. It singled out weak extension systems, lack of efficient credit and input supply systems, and poor infrastructure development. The study recommended that concerned entities undertake efforts to improveNorth Face Sale these systems and related infrastructure, and increase investments in agricultural research, to further reduce poverty in SSA.

Africa can feed itself

Gari for sale at a wholesale market in Ihugh, Benue state, Nigeria. Photo by IITA.
Gari for sale at a wholesale market in Ihugh, Benue state, Nigeria. Photo by IITA.

Even while nearly a quarter of the world’s one North Face UK Sale the more obvious stuff off billion-plus hungry are in Africa, the continent can easily meet its food and income needs with additional investments in agriculture, particularly in research and capacity-building. This was the general sentiment aired by agricultural experts gathered at a World Food Day 2009 forum that we organized in Lusaka, Zambia in October.

By investing in research and training, simple but effective technologies that already exist can be easily made available to African farmers to improve their productivity, which is currently very low compared to global average.

If the gap between potential and actual yields can be reduced using existing science, Africa’s production can increase three-fold. However, farmers must be able to generate wealth from the increased yields. This is not always the case as a lot of produce go to waste before and after harvesting.

In Africa, an increase in production usually results in a drop in prices, which consequently means lesser incomes for farmers. Produce must also be protected from pests and diseases and from losses during transportation and storage. Alternative markets are needed to prevent prices from spiraling down with increased production.

Other lessons floated during the forum included the need to develop mechanisms to help farmers cope with the lingering effects of the global financial and food crises, strengthening the agricultural research backbone of Africa, and creating an enabling environment for farmers.

Experts said research and training institutions must come together to produce a labor force that is knowledgeable and ready to face the challenges of climate change on agriculture, and quickly find and disseminate solutions. This becomes more apparent considering that over 60 percent of the continent’s population depends heavily on agriculture for their livelihoods, with 70 percent of this comprising subsistence agriculture. Most also depend on the rains, which makes agriculture even more uncertain because of climate change.

They were also in agreement that in order to increase agricultural productivity in Africa, farmers should also start increasing their farm inputs. To achieve this, farmers need a lot of motivation through an agriculture-friendly policy environment andportlandhallhotel water-Th i will tepid to rewarding support for improved access to feed, fertilizer, irrigation, and other inputs.

They supported the call for more investment in agricultural research and training to fight food insecurity and poverty in Africa. However, they emphasized that farmers need to actively participate in research to ensure that the technologies produced are appropriate and acceptable to them.