Agritechnology for Africa

Globally recognised in agricultural technology transfer, Prof Eugene Terry of the US was recently made an Honorary Professor at the University of KZN’s African Centre for Crop Improvement. On a recent visit he discussed the challenges and opportunities of bringing agritechnology to Africa. Lloyd Phillips reports.
Issue date 16 November 2007

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Africa’s population is estimated at 620 million people, but with the highest growth rate in the world – 3,1% – it should reach 1,3 billion by 2030. Yet the continent’s overall agricultural productivity is growing at under 1% yearly, its per capita food grain output has declined, and it imports 25% of its food requirements. It’s essential that its agricultural productivity is given a sustainable boost. African agriculture suffered between the late 1980s and early 2000s, when the World Bank and some African countries preferred financing infrastructure and telecommunications. These investments produced tangible impacts faster, and agriculture, especially the transfer of agricultural technology to smallholder farmers, suffered for it.

The AATF tackles reform Although recent global market reforms favoured African farmers, their impacts have been limited. In some cases foreign funding intended to empower these farmers has been rerouted. Governments struggle to transfer agricultural production and business functions to the private sector. In turn, the private sector has faced too many obstacles to empower resource-poor farmers, including corruption, laws that don’t protect foreign private investment and failure to honour business contracts. I was tasked with devising and setting up an organisation that could facilitate public/private partnerships, and bring agritechnology to smallholder farmers. Thus the non-profit African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) was launched in 2004. Hosted in Kenya, the AATF aims to improve food security and reduce poverty by increasing access to proprietary agritechnology, and drawing on the agricultural practices and resources of the world’s public and private sectors.

The AATF plans to boost Africa’s productivity by helping public institutions reform their agritechnology, agribusiness and farmer support programmes; and enabling innovative public/private agritechnology transfer partnerships. hese partnerships have vital benefits for both smallholder farmers and investors. They bring together the private and public sectors, NGOs, agricultural extension services and farmers’ associations, to share the risks and costs associated with research, product development, on-farm testing and deployment. A multi-stakeholder approach shares the burden, encouraging participation. Dealing with intellectual property rights is a problem. AATF aims to give resource-poor farmers access to proprietary technology, but private companies have a right to have their research protected. The AATF therefore creates opportunities for these technologies to be introduced where they’re most applicable – adapting them to smallholder’s needs, ensuring regulatory compliance and deploying them to target areas – with the appropriate intellectual property protection. he AATF has already helped Kenyan smallholder farmers control the deadly weed, Striga. The foundation acts as an “honest broker” between technology-transfer stakeholders and farmers.

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The AATF intends to establish the process and eventually withdraw, leaving stakeholders and farmers to continue their relationship. Other organisations that can facilitate agritechnology transfer include the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) or the Public Intellectual Property Resource for Agriculture (PIPRA). Honest Brokers he “honest brokers” must acknowledge the limits of public/private partnerships in the transfer process. To deal with potential problems, the AATF takes responsibility for intellectual property management and compliance with regulations and biosafety measures.

This ensures partners invest in product stewardship, reach workable liability arrangements and consult with stakeholders to identify key constraints and how to address them. he AATF has successfully negotiated access to agritechnologies owned by private multinationals and international public institutions, and successfully fostered partnerships, becoming the “go-to” organisation for public and private sector institutions looking to use science and technology to boost Africa’s agricultural productivity. E-mail Prof Eugene Terry at [email protected], or e-mail the AATF at [email protected] or visit |fw