[CAPE TOWN] A lack of emphasis on agricultural research in development policy over the last quarter of a century is one of the main reasons for the deterioration of African farming, according to a UN report released this month (15 September).
The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report on Africa's economic development also cites the small size of each country's research stations, isolated researchers and high staff turnover as other factors that helped "prevent the attainment of a critical mass of scientific and technical staff".
"In Sub-Saharan Africa there are problems with agricultural research, which determines the rate of technological change," Sam Gayi, lead researcher of the report told SciDev.Net.
As a result, except for maize and more recently cassava, "most of Sub-Saharan Africa has no immediately applicable crop technology that might, with adequate price incentives, substantially increase the profitability of investments in agriculture," the report concludes.
"Only a quarter of the total crop area of Sub-Saharan Africa is planted with modern crop varieties," says Gayi.
Credit provision for farmers, as well as investment in infrastructure and research, were abandoned by donor-dictated development policies in many parts of Africa, with long-lasting detrimental effects, the report says.
The authors also criticise many state agricultural budgets for being skewed towards administrative costs rather than research.
They say gaps in communicating research and policy developments, combined with shortages of credit — particularly the dissolution of marketing boards that often gave cash advances to small-scale farmers — have made it more difficult for improved government policies to be translated into improved yields in the fields.
The report singles out Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and South Africa as countries that have managed to improve their agricultural exports. Côte d'Ivoire continues to benefit from "huge investments", including government funds for research, made in the 1960s in a diverse range of crops.
The authors also say that restrictive standards on exports are placing a burden on African nations, who struggle to meet them.
"Several African countries do not have the technical capacity or resources to comply with the required standards," says Hezron Nyangito, former director of the Kenya Institute of Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA) and newly-appointed deputy governor of the Central Bank of Kenya.
KIPPRA research suggests that Kenyan farmers would have to increase agricultural spending tenfold and Uganda would need to spend about US$300 million to upgrade its honey-processing plants to comply with European Union standards.
Link to full report [6MB]