The second dialogue of ministers of agriculture, science and innovation held in Accra, Ghana ended Monday with participants calling for the establishment of Innovation Fund for Agricultural Transformation (IFAT), use of modern technologies such as biotechnology and ICT to boost extension and increased access to agricultural research information and knowledge. In a communiqué released at the end of the meeting, the ministers said the creation of the funding mechanism will stimulate both public and private investments across Africa that will sustain transformation of agriculture.
‘We need a paradigm shift that transforms African agriculture. The mindset that we can sustain ourselves through subsistence farming has trapped the continent in a cycle of famine and failed harvests,’ said Monty Jones, Executive Director of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA). ‘Africa’s farmers do not need pity. They need support. They need improved seeds and other inputs, and timely advice on how to use them. Governments play a key role increasing farmers’ access to innovations being developed by researchers across the continent.’
According to Jones and other experts participating in the Second Ministerial Dialogue on Increasing Agricultural Productivity in Africa, farmers need greater access to improved, resilient seeds, fertilizers, irrigation, weather insurance and other means to improve their farm production. The Ministerial Dialogue brought together African ministers of agriculture, science and technology, parliamentarians, research heads and other experts to discuss the status of continent-wide efforts to transform African agriculture and increase farm productivity and how to mobilise resources needed to support research, extension and education institutions related to agriculture.
“Research is generating a lot of outputs but there’s a huge bottleneck with getting them out to farmers,’ said Salim Nahdy of the African Forum for Agricultural Advisory Services (AFAAS). ‘Extension has traditionally played the role of getting innovations out to farmers, but we still are not reaching farmers. Farmers need advice that will help them adapt to rapid, dynamic changes like globalisation, volatile markets, ICTs and the mobile phone revolution and climate change.”
Organizations like FARA and AFAAS are working on a range of initiatives to develop innovative tools to share information, knowledge and provide advice to farmers on how to improve their yields, provide them with market information, and share experiences. Amongst experts, Africa’s mobile phone and ICT revolution is widely seen as one solution to helping farmers get around problems associated with poor infrastructure in rural areas. Farmers in Ghana, Kenya and other countries are already seeing the benefits of extension services and market prices through their mobile phones.
“These early successes are paying for farmers,’ said Myra Wopereis, Director of Knowledge and Technologies at FARA. ‘They are demanding more services in their efforts to find solutions to their daily farm challenges. Mobile phones have transformed radio from a passive channel for delivering information into an interactive service where farmers can call during broadcast. Mobile companies are beginning to realise that this is a good business opportunity for providing targeted advisory services to farmers. FARA is working to catalyse innovative solutions to organize the huge knowledge resources across Africa that could be tapped to provide such services,” she added. ‘We are working with at least 34 countries across Africa to train scientists and extension workers to be better facilitators of agricultural knowledge,’ said Wopereis. ‘This process also gives us and our partners an opportunity to engage the youth. Young people are responding.’
Several countries across sub-Saharan Africa have put in place subsidy programs to increase farmers’ access to inputs. Other initiatives being led by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and others are working with commercial banks to develop loan guarantee schemes to increase farmers’ access to finance.
The meeting, held at a time when the Sahel and parts of Eastern Africa face droughts took cognizance of the persistence of food insecurity and poverty across Africa, despite the continent’s endowment of abundant natural resources to support agricultural production. “The Sahel is facing its second major famine over the last five years. Poor farmers are trying to grow food on barren soils that are literally turning to deserts beneath their feet,’ said Ramadjita Tabo, Deputy Executive Director of FARA.
“Sahelian countries and others across Africa must significantly increase their investments to improve productivity and enhance the resilience of our own agriculture and ecosystems. This is the only path to stability, sustainable development and food security. Governments need to make these technologies available to smallholder farmers, most of whom are women, at affordable prices and at the right time”.
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