With Africa Agriculture Science Week in Ghana, fast approaching, here’s an opinion piece to set the scene, from CIAT’s Africa Coordinator, Robin Buruchara.
Robin has been well-placed to witness the impact of investments in agricultural research in Africa over the years, and shares his views on why it should continue. This article was first published in This is Africa, produced by the UK’s Financial Times:
One of the most exciting things I’ve seen is how investing in agricultural science in Africa can have huge economic ripple effects.
Smallholder agriculture is the engine of the African economy: it puts food in people’s stomachs and money in their pockets. But while you hear a lot about the importance of agricultural inputs like seed, fertiliser, and equipment, scientific research often falls under the radar. This work – taking place behind the scenes, in laboratories and experimental plots across the continent – ensures the use of other inputs is efficient, judicious and effective. It is the fuel for the engine of growth.
I’ve spent the majority of my career in bean research. Beans are a vital source of protein and essential nutrients such as iron and zinc, and in sub-Saharan Africa they’re an increasingly important source of income. They are grown by millions of smallholder farmers on the continent – but often the crops under-perform.
Investing in science to develop “improved” beans in Africa has involved breeding them to make them more resilient to drought, or disease, or simply ensuring they produce higher yields, to help them fulfill their potential.
That’s not just a hunch. In Ethiopia, improved white beans are the building blocks of an emerging industry that’s currently worth USD$50m a year; they’re considered “white gold” by those producing and processing them. The beans are now listed on the country’s commodity exchange, and are exported to lucrative markets in Europe. The foundation is smallholder farmers growing beans that have been improved through scientific research. (…)