Sub-Saharan Africa needs to increase crop production by 260 percent in order to feed an estimated 2.4 billion people by 2050, Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Dr. Akinwumi Adesina has said in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at the ongoing fourth African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF).
With rising population levels, demand for food will increase, and higher production has to be achieved without degrading the environment, he said. But this cannot be achieved unless there are significantly higher levels of investment in agricultural research, science and technology, he added.
Dr. Adesina was delivering an address at the High Policy Dialogue on “Research to Feed Africa” on Monday. The forum, the largest gathering to discuss Africa’s agriculture, is taking place from September 1-4.
Dr. Adesina observed that Africa has enormous agricultural potential with about 65 percent of the world’s arable land, capable of feeding the 9 billion people in the world by 2050.
“We must unlock this potential, and to do so we must make a fundamental shift in how we see agriculture. Agriculture must not be seen as a development programme but rather as a business, and agricultural research must take this business perspective,” he said.
He said a great part of what he does as Minister of Agriculture in feeding Africa’s most populous nation draws from his experience and practical lessons learnt in the field. On taking up the position, he immediately set the target for Nigeria to become self-sufficient in rice.
“This is important as Nigeria has become the second-largest importer of rice in the world after China,” he said.
Through a number of initiatives such as encouraging private sector seed companies to produce foundation and commercial seeds; removing the monopoly of government over foundation seeds; unlocking the power of seed companies to work directly with plant-breeders to develop their own foundation seeds; providing farmers with subsidised farm inputs for seeds and fertiliser via electronic vouchers on their mobile phones; as well as launching dry-season rice production, the impact was massive.
Between 2012 and 2014 six million rice farmers were reached with improved rice varieties, while the total cumulative cultivated rice area rose by two million hectares.
National paddy rice production rose by an additional seven million metric tonnes, while net farm incomes rose by US$2.5billion, unleashing a wave of prosperity for farmers in the rural areas.
Dr. Adesina said Nigeria’s new rice policy has attracted US$1.6billion of private sector investments, and he expects Nigeria to be a net exporter of rice like Thailand and India within the next four years.
“Such is the power of science and technology when matched with supportive policy instruments to drive impacts at scale,” he said.
He however noted that science and technology alone is not enough -- there is a need to also fix the financial system. According to him, commercial banks do not understand smallholder farmers and their “perceived risks” are higher than the actual risk in agriculture.
Asking farmers to pay interest rates of between 25-30 percent is not reasonable, he said, asking how banks expect smallholder farmers to pay back.
He further noted that crops and livestock insurance should become readily available to smallholder farmers to mitigate the harmful effects of climate change.
He urged donors to significantly improve support for research, since that remains key to achieving food security around the world. "African farmers are very hardworking, and they need to be supported," he stressed.
Rhoda Peace Tumusiime, the African Union Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, said agricultural transformation calls for harnessing the best technologies, building the required institutions and crafting appropriate policies with a view to realising the full potential of the continent’s agrifood systems to contribute to broad-based economic growth and job-creation.
She said the forum -- AGRF 2014 -- comes at a time when African heads of state have adopted the Malabo Declaration on Accelerated African Agricultural Growth and Transformation, by which they have committed themselves to the principles and values of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) process, and to enhance investment in agriculture to end hunger and halve poverty by 2025.
They also committed to boost intra-African trade in agricultural commodities and services, and to enhance resilience of livelihoods and production systems to climate change.
Ms. Tumusiime said to achieve this vision African leaders also adopted the Science Agenda for Agriculture in Africa, which cuts across the entire value chain of the agrifood system.
The agenda includes doubling agricultural productivity, halving post-harvest losses and developing strategic agrifood commodities value chains, including the agro-processing and agribusiness stages of those value chains.
It also includes tripling intra-African trade in agricultural products and services, and making at least 30 percent of farm, pastoral and fisher households resilient to climate change and weather-risks.
The Research to Feed Africa Policy Dialogue was organised by the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund (IDRC), which is a Canadian Crown corporation (government-owned) that supports practical research which improves lives and livelihoods across the developing world.
One of the flagship programmes of IDRC is the Canadian International Food Security Research fund (CIFSRF),which was launched in 2009 with initial funding of US$62million.
The programme brings together teams of Canadian and developing country researchers to test practical means to improve lives of smallholder farmers across Africa, Asia, and Latin America -- with more than US$21.5million allocated to projects in Africa.
The President of IDRC, Jean Lebel, said in just a few years CIFSRF researchers have worked directly with 97,000 farmers while reaching hundreds of thousands more. These farmers have helped to test more than 140 innovations in the field that have increased productivity and incomes, as well as improved and diversified diets.
Lebel indicated that Canadian and South African researchers are using advanced molecular bio-technology to develop a single vaccine to protect livestock from five major diseases that cause devastating losses in Africa.
This, he said, could increase economic stability for millions of farmers and pastoralists, and save billions of dollars in lost GDP every year.
Lebel expressed the need to harness the power of both scientific and farmer-based knowledge to develop the right crops, tools, techniques, and expertise for smallholder farmers and their communities.
He however added that to accelerate impact and achieve scale, there is a need to involve the private sector -- be it foundations, businesses or other partners. IDRC’s programming has not focused much on private sector collaboration so far, but recent trends have shown that IDRC can position itself to effectively engage with the private sector, he said.
IDRC is now seeking to foster public-private partnerships that have the ability to transform promising proof-of-concept research into development outcomes at scale.
"At the end of the day, there is a need to access expertise and resources within both the public and private sectors if the world is to improve food and nutritional security, develop rural economies and create farm and non-farm jobs for men, women and the youth," he said.