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Seeding a Green Revolution for Africa will require developing innovation systems that match each country and science and technology approaches that are relevant to local agriculture, according to a UN report.

"There has been a tendency to focus on applying international models of agricultural development without questioning their applicability to local circumstances," says the 'Technology and Innovation Report 2010: Enhancing Food Security in Africa through Science, Technology and Innovation' released by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

"When the new African Agricultural Revolution is eventually implemented, it is likely to be built on Africa's own indigenous technology and knowledge requirements and the nutrition and food security needs of its people," says the report.

Asia's Green Revolution swept across the continent in the 1960s, leading to high-yielding grain varieties, but Africa is yet to see the same and all eyes are focused on how to bring about a similar advance in Africa.

Some agricultural research and technology can be imported and adapted, some developed from scratch, and still some brought in by cooperation between developing countries with assistance from third-country donors.

But the challenge is to find, promote and disseminate innovation relevant to African agriculture.

"Our understanding of how new ideas, knowledge and technologies are introduced into agricultural practice remains incomplete," the report said.

"You can take different types of technology — medium, low and high tech — and different mixes of technology but adapted to Africa's different conditions, different ecology zones and crops," said Michael Lim, an economist in UNCTAD's technology and logistics division, but added that this is "quite challenging".

UNCTAD recommends strengthening the 'innovation systems' — a wide range of interconnecting issues, from providing financial incentives and ensuring technology transfer to promoting education — for agriculture in each country in Africa. "This means enhancing links between knowledge research institutes to make sure any innovation they come up with is diffused to the farmer," said Lim.

"Farmers need to be able to absorb knowledge to use technologies effectively, and they often come up with their own solutions."

UNCTAD cites the example of the Framework for African Agricultural Productivity developed by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa which advocates involving farmers as active players in improving agricultural productivity by increasing yields but also by having a say in shaping policy.

Apart from outlining the challenges, the report also mentions success stories. These include biological control of the cassava mealy bug, which was supported in Zambia by the improvement of agricultural supply chains and the development of markets. The result was that cassava production grew rapidly — at times overtaking maize, the country's other staple crop.

The report was released on 19 May.

Link to full report [1.18MB]