While at the highest policy level, many developing countries are committed to the deployment of science, technology and innovation (ST&I) for socio-economic development, commitments need to be translated into tangible products and services which directly impact on people’s lives and livelihood. In June 2014, African Heads of State adopted the Malabo decision EX.CL/39(XXV) which endorsed the continental, Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa-2024 (STISA-2024); agriculture is one of the six priority areas. ST&I for development is also enunciated in the African Union Commission (AUC), Agenda 2063. Closely aligned with these two policy instruments is the Science Agenda for African Agriculture (S3A) which was championed by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA). Yet, agriculture worldwide and especially in the context of developing countries continues to experience a PR problem; it is generally linked with drudgery, long working hours, low wages and poor economic returns.
Agriculture is experiencing a renaissance but can leaders, their policy advisors, the scientific and business communities really work together in the public’s interest to ensure that agriculture provides adequate returns on investments for as many as possible including rural small holder farmers, women and youth? My picks for this month include several newly released documents which could point the way forward include:
(i) The CTA/IFS publication of the life stories of twelve remarkable African scientists, male and female, young and veterans, who have broken barriers and resisted being stereotyped. They are part of the solution for transforming African agriculture through ST&I. Through their efforts, the quality of farm produce has improved, crops and livestock are more resilient to climate change and emerging pests and disease and technology development is more inclusive and gender sensitive. Agribusiness and trade and the livelihoods of many farmers are also being enhanced. Africa needs to harness these scattered ‘gold nuggets’ and ‘shining starts’ increase investment for reengineering the enabling environment; policies, organisations, institutions and markets so that several more ST&I ‘champions’ can emerge and ST&I for development is no longer a mere buzzword but an enabler of societal transformation. If Africa wants to be valued as a major player in feeding not only Africa’s 1 billion but also in ‘making poverty history’; it has to continue building the capability and sustaining the momentum for addressing present and future agricultural development challenges.
(ii) The Science Agenda for Agriculture in Africa which FARA and its partners are developing and operationalizing. This African-owned and African-led agenda articulates how Africa needs to apply science, technology, extension, innovations, policy and social learning to meet its agricultural and overall development goals. In the medium to long term the aim is to build systemic scientific capacity at national and regional levels in order to address the evolving needs of farmers, producers, entrepreneurs and consumers, especially given strategic and foresight issues such as climate change and urbanisation.
(iii) European Commission Development and Cooperation / EuropeAid (DEVCO) New Strategy on Research & Innovation: Food and Nutrition Security/ Sustainable Agriculture. DEVCO wants to ‘harness the power of agricultural research to provide solutions that lead to reduced poverty and hunger and make an effective contribution to sustainable agriculture, nutrition and resilience in developing countries’. But have we not read this before in many policy statements emanating from major donors and development partners? However, DEVCO needs to be applauded as they intend to build on lessons learned and one of the four main pillars that have been adopted is ‘ensuring that agricultural research for development (AR4D) delivers impact at country and local level’. DEVCO also recognizes the concept of innovation systems as an overarching framework linking research, extension and innovation and acknowledges that research needs to support the ‘continuous generation of competent and skilled human resources’ in addition to addressing other issues.
(iv) Scinnovent Centre’s discussion paper Stuck on the road to the market: Why Kenya suffers from stunted innovation. Dr Maurice Bolo is a young professional with a bright future. I have monitored his professional development since he was identified for CTA training on innovation systems in 2004. This is one of Africa’s gold nuggets. This research paper builds on the policy and regulatory framework for STI in Kenya and examines the mechanisms in place including seed funding that is made available for innovators. The researchers find that the” transition to market has been slow and stagnant’ and commercialization is not realized. Recommendations include providing tax credits for investments in research and development; support for preferential purchasing of locally available material and raising awareness on IPR.
To achieve the goal of being knowledge-led economies that are continuously generating new knowledge through research or reverse engineering or modifying existing knowledge (scientific and local/indigenous/traditional), to innovate in products, processes, markets and services, developing countries need a critical mass of highly motivated, well-trained, skilled, committed scientists, experts, technicians and entrepreneurs among others. Policy and decision makers need to invest in new and modern infrastructure; laboratories, classrooms and pilot plants and increase funding for training, research and development to motivate, incentivise and mobilise scientists to address the agricultural and development challenges in a collaborative manner; nationally, regionally and internationally and for the benefit of society. Development partners need to support the transition through promoting and supporting local ownership of research and innovation agendas, capacity building of researchers especially the next generation and good governance.
Judith Ann Francis
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