Rome – Africa’s agricultural productivity has been stagnating for decades, but science, technology and innovation could offer solutions with measures such as enhancing soil health and irrigation and improving crop varieties, the World Food Forum’s Science and Innovation Forum heard here today.
“Africa is the future food basket” not just for the continent but for the world, QU Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), said in remarks at event titled “Increasing Agricultural Productivity in Africa – Can STI (Science, Technology and Innovation) help Africa to make a quantum leap in agricultural productivity?’.
“But in order to realise that potential, we have to change the business model and empower science and innovation and establish more enabling policies” in consultation with FAO’s African Members, Qu said. FAO has argued that science, technology and innovation promise to provide better options in the future, but efforts aimed at increasing agricultural productivity must prioritize the continent’s 33 million smallholder farmers, who play a key role in food production and job creation.
Per capita food production in the continent has continued to decline over the last five decades, and is forecast to worsen as the population increases. Only about 35 percent of the crop area is sown with seeds of improved varieties, and productivity of agriculture is low and stagnant. Although more than half of the labour force is working 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 advisory services, and low input use efficiency under rainfed conditions. With the impacts of the climate crisis further reducing yields and some areas facing transboundary pest invasions and animal diseases, Africa is well off track for achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, particularly those related to poverty, hunger, nutrition and health.
A range of options
FAO has outlined a range of science, technology and innovation options available for increased agricultural productivity in Africa that include:
- Farming and cropping systems that increase soil fertility and soil health;
- Irrigation systems that make more effective use of limited amounts of water, and planting food crops that require less water and/or improved varieties that make more efficient use of available water;
- Effective agronomic practices that include optimal dates for planting, as well as planting density;
- Improved crop varieties that yield more and respond better to improved management practices; these must be based on effective seed systems, which can be made possible through private sector participation.
- And diversification of crops for enhanced yield stability and nutritional security.
Based on these strategies, there was significant scope for broadening the range of crops and increasing productivity in Africa’s agrifood systems. For this, a combination of science, technology and innovation interventions are needed, which are appropriate for the ecological, economic, and social situations of smallholders, and that are developed in partnership with them. These interventions must also be backed by appropriate investments, which can be attracted through an efficient value chain approach. Another important prerequisite is key partnerships among all stakeholders, supported by enabling policies.
The Science and Innovation Forum is one of three World Food Forum fora being held over five days at FAO’s Rome headquarters. The Youth Forum has gathered young people from across the globe to focus on how to innovate and shape policy to ensure more people can access safe and nutritious food, while simultaneously looking at ways to mitigate the impacts of the climate crisis. The Hand-in-Hand Investment Forum will provide a platform for national authorities, global and national public and private entities, along with multilateral development banks and donors, to discuss opportunities to finance the Hand-in-Hand Initiative. This is one of FAO’s flagship programmes which aims to pair up sources of funding with countries where investment in agrifood systems is most needed.