Demand-driven research needed to boost agriculture

Dr Ephraim Mukisira believes that despite food shortage challenges persisting in Africa, it is possible for nation states to produce enough food, generate incomes and secure the livelihoods of many Africans.

Mukisira, director of Kenya Agricultural Research Institute ‑ a premier national institution bringing together research programmes in food crops, horticultural and industrial crops, livestock and range management, land and water management, and socio-economics in Kenya, also said producing enough food for Africa is possible only if countries within and across the continent foster demand-driven research in the agriculture sector.

“Countries in African can only feed their citizens if they embrace demand-driven research, innovations and strong policies in agriculture,” notes Mukisira.

The International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, a member of the Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centres, and a non-profit agricultural research for development institute that aims to improve the livelihoods of the resource-poor across the world’s dry areas, also believes that policy advice produced in an inclusive and demand-driven way is better for farmers and governments, and is also an effective way to solve challenges faced in the agriculture sector in most African countries.

Sharing same views, Professor Timothy Simalenga, Executive Director, Centre for Co-ordination of Agricultural Research and Development in Southern Africa, a centre to promote food security in the region of southern Africa, asserts that demand-driven research is a panacea to problems affecting the agriculture sector in the region as it has enough evidence showing that good science can deliver impact in the sector.

He, therefore, advises that research institutions in Africa should stop doing research for the sake of research but must focus on demand driven research that benefits farmers and the continent at large.

Simalenga also notes that the knowledge to carry out demand-driven research to improve agriculture is present in most African countries but the challenge is how to harness it. “Knowledge to carry out demand-driven research and improve agriculture and transform Africa is available, but the problem is how to harness the knowledge for African problems,” says Simalenga.

Accordingly, African countries should establish research mechanisms that aim to transform smallholder agriculture from subsistence to an innovative, commercially oriented sector to contribute to a sustained economic growth. To effectively achieve this, countries within and across Africa should prioritise demand-driven research together with innovations, strategies and policies in agriculture.

They should also trust science and technology development to do the job by simply providing enabling policies, legal and institutional frameworks to support food and nutrition security initiatives in the continent.

Significantly, as partnerships improve research and development’s effectiveness, embracing demand-driven research in agriculture calls for enhanced partnerships between government departments and agencies, development players, scientists, public and private sectors.

Jean-Marcel Ribaut, a researcher in agriculture biotechnology and policy formulation believes: “True partnerships and solid capacity building can overcome some of the bottlenecks in research for development…All parties must, therefore, work together to implement, monitor and evaluate policies.”

For demand-driven research to produce desired results, Ribaut notes that “true partnerships should link ‘upstream’ innovation to ‘downstream’ uses”.

Agricultural research for development, he adds, spans a broad spectrum of activities – from ‘upstream’ research, generally at universities or advanced research institutes, to much more ‘downstream’ research by plant breeders to put better crops in farmers’ hands.

Ribaut goes on to say it is important to find right people and teams, and to have adequate financial and human resources to manage partnerships effectively, and as a result believesagricultural policy research team in African countries should work with a range of partner countries to provide them with support to create policies that will be successfully put into real action.

He says demand-driven research needs to strengthen each part of the agricultural industry from production to processing, marketing and to the final consumer. Therefore, key partnerships need to be fostered with other key research organisations, meaning researchers must work more closely development practitioners in agriculture.

More so, governments, policy decision makers and other stakeholders must create agricultural policy clusters, and their mandate must be to provide a knowledge sharing process and information platform to promote innovations, technologies, and best practices that can benefit farmers.

Calestous Juma, professor of the Practice of International Development and Director of the Science, Technology and Globalisation Project, agrees and adds the view that enhancing African agricultural development will require specific efforts aimed at aligning science and technology strategies with agricultural development efforts.

Therefore, he urged countries within and across Africa to recognise the need to embrace demand-driven research and use it as a panacea to problems currently hindering development in the continent.

As political will is key, governments should create conducive environments for researchers, scientists and all stakeholders in the agriculture sector to do their job and save Africa from the jaws of poverty.

July 2014
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