ROME – Africa’s agricultural productivity has been stagnant for decades, but science, technology and innovation could offer solutions with measures such as improving soil health and irrigation and improving crop varieties, the World Food Forum’s Science and Innovation Forum said here today.
“Africa is the food basket of the future,” not just for the continent but for the world, said QU Dongyu, director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in a remark at the event, titled “Increasing Agricultural Productivity in Africa – Can STI (Science, Technology and Innovation) help Africa make a quantum leap in agricultural productivity?”.
“But to realize this potential, we need to change the business model, strengthen science and innovation, and put in place support strategies,” Qu said in consultation with FAO’s African members. The FAO has argued that science, technology and innovation will provide better options in the future, but efforts to increase agricultural productivity must prioritize the continent’s 33 million small farmers, who play a key role in food production and job creation.
Per capita food production on the continent has continued to decline over the past five decades and is projected to worsen as the population increases. Only about 35 percent of the acreage is sown with seed of improved varieties, and agricultural productivity is low and stagnant. Although more than half of the labor force works in agriculture, the “value added” per worker in sub-Saharan Africa is well below the global average.
Low crop yields are largely attributed to lack of access to inputs, technologies and extension services, and low efficiency in using inputs under rainy conditions. As the impact of the climate crisis continues to reduce yields and some areas face transboundary pest infestations and animal diseases, Africa is far from achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, particularly on poverty, hunger, nutrition and health .
A number of options
The FAO has outlined a range of science, technology and innovation options available to increase agricultural productivity in Africa, including:
- Farming and cropping systems that increase soil fertility and soil health;
- Irrigation systems that use limited amounts of water more effectively and planting food crops that require less water and/or improved varieties that use available water more efficiently;
- Effective agronomic practices that include optimal planting dates and planting density;
- Improved crop varieties that produce more and are more responsive to improved management practices; these must be based on effective seed systems, which can be made possible through private sector involvement.
- And crop diversification for improved yield stability and food security.
Based on these strategies, there was significant scope for expanding the crop range and increasing productivity in Africa’s agri-food systems. This requires a combination of science, technology and innovative interventions that are appropriate to the ecological, economic and social situation of small farmers and are developed in partnership with them. These interventions must also be supported by appropriate investments, which can be attracted through an efficient value chain approach. Another key requirement is key partnerships between all stakeholders, supported by supporting policies.
The Science and Innovation Forum is one of three World Food Forum forums taking place over five days at FAO headquarters in Rome. The Youth Forum brought together young people from around the world to focus on how to innovate and shape policies to ensure more people have access to safe and nutritious food, while exploring ways to mitigate the impact of the climate crisis . The Hand-in-Hand Investment Forum provides a platform for national authorities, global and national public and private entities, and multilateral development banks and donors to discuss ways to fund the Hand-in-Hand Initiative. This is one of FAO’s flagship programs, aiming to match funding sources with countries where investment in agri-food systems is most needed.