Sharing agricultural knowledge in Africa ‘vital for food security’

Productivity is not the only issue for farmers Copyright: Flickr/CIAT Centre for Tropical Agriculture/Neil Palmer

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[ACCRA] African countries have been told that they need to do more to share agricultural knowledge and information — including the wider dissemination of research results — if they are to drive the continent’s economic growth.

The recommendation is included in a  four-year strategic plan, launched by the African Forum for Agricultural Advisory Services (AFAAS) at its General Assembly in Accra, Ghana, this week (12–14 April 2011).

According to the AFAAS, advisory services are critical to boosting food security. It wants to see "agricultural advisory services that effectively and efficiently contribute to sustained productivity and profitable growth of African agriculture".

This is in line with the aims of the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) — a brainchild of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development — which seeks to raise agricultural productivity by at least six per cent by 2015.

The goal of the 2011–14 plan is to bring national agricultural advisors — from policymakers and government agencies to non-governmental organisations and extension workers — under a single umbrella to share information.

The plan advocates wider dissemination of research outputs, for example through documenting and sharing innovations; increasing the uptake of improved technologies and making a practical commitment to research over the next four years. It also includes training for providers of agricultural advisory services.

The AFAAS said a lack of synergy between farmers, researchers and policymakers has meant African farmers have been slow to adopt innovations and research findings. Speakers cited poor information exchange, a lack of sharing best practices at the continental level, and low levels of networking and partnerships, as some of the causes.

Dan Kisauzi, AFAAS managing consultant told SciDev.Net that the strategy "reflects the importance of knowledge, and knowledge management, in improving agricultural productivity in Africa".

But he said that productivity is not the only issue.

"In the past, advisory services have equated agriculture solely with production, but the interest of farmers is not just in production, but in making money and surviving. The constraints that farmers face in getting value from their production lies outside the farm — and the strategy is addressing this through an improved two-way dialogue with farmers."

Scola Bwali, a district National Agricultural Advisory Services coordinator in Uganda’s Hoima district, said: "The challenge for the AFAAS is to assist service providers with delivering articulate, country-level interventions that can bring food security and money."

The plan presented at the symposium is not exhaustive and delegates agreed that it should be continuously refined to accommodate changing needs.

Bwali said climate change, gender and market value are issues of key importance to smallholder farmers.

Martin Eweg, an extension service provider working with sugar cane farmers in South Africa, said the strategic plan would help African countries to set up advisory services across the continent.