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05 - 12 March 2008 
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Does Africa Need Agricultural Think Tanks?

Despite the fact that Africa has a natural endowment for agricultural productivity, the continent’s performance in agriculture and related industries has not hit world record. Several factors have brought about this status quo. First, agricultural education in Africa has not been demand driven. Most agricultural curricula are based on models in developed countries. Currently there is a positive development in this area with the coming of new and private agricultural institutions. The latter have spurred competition and the need to be relevant and sustainable.

The link between research and technology dissemination has been so weak that most technologies generated have never been adopted. Apart from research funding being inadequate, Research funders have always demanded detailed proposals which may not be generated and submitted by many African scientists. Funding agencies have always had their own set priorities and research themes for the African researcher to address.

Today, there is increasing focus on a needs based, participatory and multi-disciplinary research. Since technology dissemination is still weak (as most extension workers are still poorly facilitated) research products do not reach the end user to the expected scale. African research must be based on demand. The research funds must serve their intended purpose. Research grants aimed at solving constraints limiting qualitative and quantitative production of agro-industry products seem to be the most appropriate way to go. While the agricultural industry must be realistic, research institutions ought to deliver the right solutions at the right time. We must not forget that demand for research products has a bearing towards market availability for industrial products.

African Agriculture will never develop as long as it is basically export market oriented. The fact that exported products are in their raw form, limits the total value product benefit to a bare minimum. The local consumer demand is also very limited in volumes and quality hence the need for agrarian reforms to address the same. Presently, everybody is a producer. This limits the product demand base.

One wonders whether the way forward is a think tank. Many lessons learnt indicate that such bodies tend not to meet the needs of African people. Take the case of OAU, and even NEPAD today; how much growth have these bodies stimulated in Africa? To stimulate meaningful agricultural development, Africa needs more networks with clear themes and shared effort.

A case in point is the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in East and Central Africa (ASARECA). Through ASARECA networks, many key research solutions to agricultural problems have been found and shared among stakeholders within the region. It has also promoted linkages and a common goal among researchers. However, ASARECA still wallows in inadequate funding and limited scope. Many high value crops for example, are left out of the scope. Similar networks, if well funded and with broad scope of work, could make a difference in Africa’s agricultural sector.

The way forward is an African conference for all stakeholders along the market chain, during which issues limiting agricultural development on the continent should be discussed through regional groups and general plenaries. The outcome should lead to establishment of an African Network to enhance Agricultural Development with regional sub-networks and working groups.

By Dr. Ssekyewa Charles
Director of Research, Uganda Martyrs University

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