African countries south of the Sahara will need to double their investment in agricultural research and development.That’s the key summary finding of a new report entitled ‘Taking Stock of National Agricultural R&D Capacity in Africa South of the Sahara’, produced by the Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators (ASTI) programme, led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
The report was presented at the three-day 2015 Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) in Johannesburg, South Africa. The FARA conference itself marked the launch of the Science Agenda for Agriculture in Africa, which identifies a suite of issues and options for increasing and deepening the contributions of science to agriculture in Africa.
ASTI researchers attending the conference also launched a new set of interactive tools designed to enable policymakers and researchers to better track progress in African R&D investment and capacity over time and facilitate cross-country comparisons.
Critical issues over cultivation
“It is critical that African countries invest more in agricultural research to ensure that they can feed their populations,” said Nienke Beintema, head of ASTI and one of the authors of the report. “Underinvestment, inadequate human resource capacity, poor research infrastructure, and a lack of coherent policies continue to constrain the quantity and quality of research outputs in many countries.”
The report found that, although agricultural R&D spending and human resource capacity has grown considerably in the region since 2000, it was concentrated in only a few African countries. Other key findings include:
- Low salary levels and poor conditions of service have led to high researcher turnover across Africa. In addition, a very large share of senior researchers are approaching retirement.
- Female scientists remain grossly underrepresented in agricultural R&D, despite the fact that they are in a unique position to effectively address the pressing challenges facing African farmers, the majority of whom are female.
- Donor dependency and funding volatility remain critical in many countries. The research agendas of countries with very high shares of donor funding can be skewed toward short-term goals that are not necessarily aligned with national or regional priorities.
Options and challenges
African governments and research agencies are limited in their choice of options to address the many challenges they face in developing their agricultural research systems because of funding constraints. The ASTI report lists various successful policy changes already adopted in certain countries, which can offer valuable lessons for other countries.
“Addressing these R&D challenges will be critical to enhancing future agricultural productivity,” said Gert-Jan Stads, one of the authors of the report. “The implementation of the Science Agenda is extremely important for the development of African agriculture. Today’s launch of the ASTI report is intended to serve as an important input into, and a potential benchmark for, the implementation of the Science Agenda and the broader development agenda for the region.”