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Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Innovation key to unlocking Africa’s agriculture potential

Agriculture is the fulcrum of Africa’s economy, with growth-enabling roles that cut across all crucial sectors despite its seemingly dwindling share of the continent’s GDP.

Dr. Denis Kyetere
Dr. Denis Kyetere

In the wake of sustained efforts to translate economic challenges into opportunities, the African farmer is at the core of it, and must continuously re engineer their approaches to contribute meaningfully to the value chain.

In recent years, adoption of technology, improved regulation and increased macroeconomic stability in many African nations have opened new frontiers, offering a crucial balancing role required for food security and improved livelihoods.

At the centre of efforts to maximise farm productivity, the role of technology cannot be gainsaid. While more advocacy and policy initiatives continue to be pursued, there is one pressing need – delivering technology solutions to farmers, including biotechnology.

At the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), we lay great emphasis on building a balance in portfolio for products accessed and developed through conventional and biotech approaches to provide more options for farmers.

This comes with empowering farmers to adjust the ways they protect crops and manage the fields for better output. Available studies show that farmers cannot engage in the same age-old practices and expect different results. Change is of essence now and going forward. 

We believe in leveraging on technology to help farmers defy bottlenecks that stifle productivity at the farm leading to hunger, poverty, diseases and deaths. Increased uptake and change of attitudes on various agricultural technologies is key.  

We recognise the difficult conditions that the whole world and especially our farmers are working under given the COVID-19 pandemic and our prayers go to those affected as we encourage all of us to make it our personal mission to keep the pandemic at bay.

As we mark AATF’s 17th anniversary this week, we are encouraged by progress being made by African governments towards commercial approval and cultivation of biotech products. These are indications that governments in Africa are moving forward, even if slower and more cautiously, regarding availing a variety of technologies to farmers. Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa have approved and released new technologies and products that enhance insect resistance and assure better quality harvests for farmers and consumers. We congratulate these governments for making the bold decisions and are optimistic that more African governments will follow.

We have engaged with over 9.4 million people across Africa during the last two years alone with 1.7 million farmers benefitting from products and technologies out of our various partnerships. We continue training smallholder farmers on seed-based technologies and mechanization reaching 740,000 during the last two years and building the capacity of those involved in the deployment value chain including seed companies to enhance quality and timely seed production.

We celebrate with the Nigerian farmers the government’s decision last year to commercialize the first genetically modified cowpea in the world. The insect resistant cowpea known as Pod Borer Resistant and registered as SAMPEA 20-T was developed through a partnership coordinated by AATF and brings together international and local private and public sector players. Its approval reflects AATF’s determination to improve the lives of smallholder farmers despite resource and geographical constraints. Nigeria farmers stand to gain at least 20% more grain yield and on savings from import of insecticides.  

Farmers in different parts of the continent now have access to improved certified maize seeds that address moderate drought, insect infestation and weed control.  The DroughtTEGO and TELA maize seeds have given farmers yield increases of between 33 and 54 percent in addition to better incomes and livelihoods.

In addition, rice producers and seed companies will soon benefit from better performing indigenous African hybrid rice following entry of the materials into national performance trials signaling possible release. These new rice hybrids have recorded yields of more than 10 per cent compared to existing commercial varieties.

Mechanisation on the other hand is making enormous difference to farmers lives with improved farm performance, quality of life and attraction of more women and youth into cassava farming as a business. Through our Cassava Mechanisation and Agroprocessing Project (CAMAP) farmers have recorded reduced drudgery from cassava farming, increased the efficiency in addition to a 200% increase in yields per hectare from the usual 7-9 tonnes to over 25 tonnes.

Operated in four countries (Nigeria, Uganda, Zambia and Tanzania (TAAT Cassava), CAMAP promotes good agronomic practices, encouraging farmers to use improved cassava varieties, fertiliser and herbicides, and ensure timely farm operations.

Given our belief in better technologies for farmers, we note there is more that can be done to accelerate access and use of these technologies if the intended purpose is to be realized. We have therefore been rallying institutions, governments and communities to champion the creation of functional policy and regulatory environments for adoption of innovations that will have real impact for farmers.

Going forward, there is need for decisive policy actions towards uptake of biotechnology devoid of negative perceptions. The clamour for food security requires concerted action from every country and every farmer. 

By Dr. Denis Kyetere (Executive Director, African Agricultural Technology Foundation – AATF)

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