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Agricultural research advances in Africa are not reaching farmers in the field, top African scientists have warned.

Speaking at the third African Green Revolution Conference in Oslo, Norway, last week (28 August), they said that although research institutes have developed seeds that can improve crop yields, these have had no effect on the ground.

"The continuing puzzle for us is that the adaptation of these technologies is very limited. We cannot see yield improvement in our countries," said Mpoko Bokanga, executive director at the African Agricultural Technology Foundation.

Bokanga said that a large number of improved seeds and planting technologies are implemented to great success in targeted development projects like the UN's Millennium Villages (see Ending poverty one village at a time) but fail to scale up.  

While the money for research has increased, funders have ignored the deployment of new technologies, says Florence Wambugu, chief executive of the Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation.

"I believe we need to have a better focus on strategic research, but we also need to focus on deploying the research to smallholder farmers. We need to plug the gap between the lab and the field."

But Akinwumi A. Adesina, vice president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) told SciDev.Net that his organisation was starting to address the funding gap.

"Within AGRA, we are spending roughly US$50 million to develop a rural network of agro-dealers. These will be rural input shops that carry seeds and fertilisers to rural areas. So that is helping to reduce the distance that farmers travel to find farm inputs." Agro-dealers are also starting to do demonstrations of new technologies, he said.

Agro-businesses used the conference to pledge support to improve technology transfer in Africa. The Norwegian fertiliser company Yara will improve port facilities in Africa to improve access to fertilisers and other inputs. Seed companies vowed to develop local seed distribution systems.

"I would say, both from the public sector and from the private sector, that there is a realisation of the importance of getting technologies off the shelf," said Adesina, adding that if the bottleneck could be eliminated the benefits would be huge.

"If we are able to get all the technologies off the shelf, and improve incentives for farmers to use them, we can triple yields of maize, and many of the other crops in Africa in less than three years."