Thursday, September 06, 2012

Can Africa feed itself ?

Africa can leapfrog out of the deepening pit of poverty on the continent’s socio-economic fabric, Professor Calestous Juma asserts in a must-read new book.

The continent’s agriculture is at 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 suggest 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 African agriculture. The author is optimistic that African is in good stead to feed itself in one generation.

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 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, 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 with 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 emphasizesthe 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 in an interview with this writer.

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.

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 rural development.

Article By Nawa Mutumweno for Times of Zambia

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