Research ‘key to sustainable smallholder agriculture’

Dairy goats in a pen
Copyright: Brian Sokol/IDRC / Panos

Speed read

  • More than 70 per cent of African farmers are involved in smallholder farming
  • Lack of investment in livestock R&D is impeding efforts to sustain the sector
  • An expert says providing infrastructure such as roads are also needed

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[NAIROBI] Research must precede Africa’s efforts to attain food security and reduce poverty through investments in smallholder agriculture, a livestock conference has heard. Livestock experts argue that without first conducting research, any investment increase in the smallholder system would be unsustainable, and could harm the environment.

Mudibo Traore, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) sub-regional coordinator for Eastern Africa, in a keynote address during a conference to mark the 40th anniversary of the International Livestock Research Institute last month (1 October), noted that the African scientific community must help produce evidence-based research.

“Due to little investment in livestock research, predictions by various institutions show that Africa will be importing 15 per cent of its milk unless things change drastically.”

Mudibo Traore, FAO

“Once we conduct research we must be able to quickly turn the findings into both strategy and policy to achieve sustainable intensification of agriculture,” Traore added, noting that no single form of intensified agriculture would suit diverse regions of Africa because different regions and ecological zones must collect their own data to find out what is best suited for them.

Traore said that more than 70 per cent of farmers on the continent are involved in smallholder farming systems, and noted that only research could once and for all end controversies over sustainable development, especially in smallholders.

Some 240 million people in Africa are currently hungry, producing and living on inadequate food, according to the 2013 FAO World Hunger and Poverty Statistics.

Many governments in Africa are not adequately funding ag0ricultural research and less money goes into livestock research, resulting in Africans consuming the least amounts of animal proteins worldwide at 9.9 grams a capita daily, compared to 45.3 and 47.7 grams daily for Americas and Europe, respectively, according to Traore.

“Due to little investment in livestock research, predictions by various institutions show that Africa will be importing 15 per cent of its milk unless things change drastically,” Traore added.

Bright Rwamirama, Uganda’s minister for animal industry, said his government has prioritised investment in infrastructure including roads and electricity to facilitate smooth market access and to enable value additions to thrive.

Governments appreciate the importance of putting money in agriculture research. However, investment in infrastructure is also critical for markets access and to enable proper functioning of value chains,” Rwamirama said.

Rwamirama acknowledged the success story of smallholder dairy sectors in Kenya and Uganda which are now able to meet domestic demand and export, proving that cash invested in research, disease control and productivity was money well spent.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan desk.