A “green revolution” led by Africa’s small farmers, and harnessing the latest technologies and innovations, is vital if the continent is to reduce extreme poverty and hunger by 2015, just two of the eight globally agreed Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), according to a new United Nations report.
The 2010 Technology and Innovation Report, issued by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), warns that “ineffective farming techniques and wasteful post-harvest practices” have left sub-Saharan Africa as the region most likely to miss the MDGs on poverty and hunger.
Agriculture forms the basis of many African economies and provides the largest source of employment and livelihood for Africans. However, per capita food production in the least developed countries (LDCs) has declined continuously over the past 40 years – dropping by one-fifth between the early 1970s and the mid-2000s.
The report argues that innovations and major improvements in the technologies employed by African smallholder farmers are needed to restore food security.
It urges a “green revolution” for Africa built on technology and innovation aimed at the needs and capabilities of millions of smallholder farmers and at coping with the continent’s varying climate conditions.
The report notes that Africa’s smallholder farmers can benefit from new technologies such as low-cost drip irrigation and plastic water tanks to store runoff, as opposed to modern irrigation systems which can increase crop yields but are designed more for larger farms.
Innovative policies are also covered, including a successful policy of “smart subsidies” to ease access to fertilizers which has led to “staggering” increases in maize production in Malawi, as well as alternative technologies in the areas of pesticides, tilling and post-harvest technologies.
The core challenge, according to the report, is to support the smallholders who make up the bulk of Africa’s farmers, many of whom live at or below the poverty line.
While acknowledging that there are no quick fixes, the report identifies several steps that could help improve agricultural productivity and food security. These include strengthening human and institutional capacities, empowering farmers by including them in the design of policies and programmes, and improving farmer support systems and markets.
With the appropriate international support and the necessary political will, African agriculture can be transformed through science, technology, and innovation and contribute to broader economic growth and development on the continent, the report stresses.