African food security ‘needs more scientists’

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[LONDON] Africa’s efforts to address food security should focus on improving the education system in order to produce more technological innovators, according to Joseph Mukiibi, director of the Ugandan National Agricultural Research Organisation.

Speaking at the opening of a conference in London on Plant Pathology and Global Food Security, organised by the British Society for Plant Pathology, Mukiibi highlighted the shortage in trained scientists faced by many African nations, which he attributed to a lack of postgraduate facilities.

“We are in a situation where innovation is being de-emphasised,” he said. “In my view the emphasis should be to encourage young people to go into science and create new knowledge beneficial to society”.

Mukiibi also criticised those who advocated more ‘bottom-up’ participatory approaches to agricultural research. Although such a strategy was commendable in terms of introducing greater democracy, he said, society should still be looking to scientists for solutions.

The recent drop in public funding for international agricultural research, and a shift away from long-term development strategies towards more immediate poverty alleviation, should also be of concern to scientists, he said.

“Our governments are unable to provide sufficient money, and the donors are shying away from giving money for research,” he said. “If the trend continues… the problems of plant disease will be even more serious than they are now, and will cause greater food insecurity.”

He called on scientists in developed countries to lobby their donor agencies to reverse this trend. “When donors come to Africa, what they say is taken as gospel truth by our leaders,” he said.

While acknowledging that environmental factors, such as drought and soil erosion, are significant challenges for developing world farmers, Mukiibi said that an increasingly important threat to food security was the globalised nature of food production.

“In the coming decade it appears that [the lack of] markets is going to be the single major challenge that agriculture in developing countries will face,” said Mukiibi. “It is becoming increasingly clear that the results of research are being annulled by the absence of markets.”

© SciDev.Net 2002