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Waking up to the African agricultural dream: Science agenda for African agriculture

Anoop Kumar

It was an educative and interesting discussion  when thought leaders on agriculture  from the National Agricultural and Research Systems of West, Central and North African countries, ministries of agriculture, NGO’s farmer organization, private sector and  CGIAR  gathered on the 9th of May 2017 in the conference room of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA)’s secretariat in Accra, Ghana

This was the opening of a three-day consultation- a joint initiative of FARA and West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (CORAF/WECARD), the North Africa Agricultural Sub-Regional Organisation (NAASRO) and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) of Ghana. The consultation was set to identify and devise effective mechanisms of rolling out the Science Agenda for Agriculture in Africa (S3A) and I attended the opening ceremony taking a seat as YPARD Africa representative at the FARA secretariat.

The dream

The Science Agenda for Agriculture in Africa also called the ‘Science Agenda’ is a plan aligned with the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP)’s targets under the Sustaining the CAADP Momentum Strategy. The vision of the ‘Science Agenda’ is to ensure food security in Africa, a recognized global scientific player in agriculture and the world’s bread-basket by the year 2030.

In the words of Dr. Yemi Akinbamijo, the Executive Director of FARA as he welcomed the participants, the ‘Science Agenda’ is an African-owned and African-led process which has a game-changing potential for science in Africa. This process articulates the science, technology, extension, innovation, policy and social learning that Africa needs to apply in order to meet its agricultural and overall development goals. In the short to medium term, the S3A seeks the implementation of CAADP; to increase domestic public and private sector investment; to create the enabling environment for sustainable application of science for agriculture, and to double the current level of Agricultural Total Factor Productivity (ATFP) by 2025 through applied sciences. This agenda is to build systemic science capacity at national and regional levels in the medium to long-term to address the evolving needs of farmers, producers, entrepreneurs and consumers- especially given strategic and foresight issues such as climate change and urbanization.

The role of the youth

While listening in and hearing specific year deadlines of 2025 and 2030 being mentioned, I realized that the participants were laying a blueprint for the younger generation of professionals in agriculture. I thought of sustainability and the readiness of the youth to receive the baton.

I then reminisced some years back when I sat for the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) by the West Africa Examination Council (WAEC) in my country. Agricultural Science at the time was one paper which many of the candidates- even in the urban areas fervently looked forward to. The subject of agriculture excited many pupils even in the capital city although the majority had very little or no hands-on experience. It even inspired some us at that early age to start our own little gardens. Some others developed an interest in rearing poultry, rabbits, guinea pigs, to mention a few. It was obvious at the time that the classroom experience of the theory of agriculture for many had been translated into a passion for practical agriculture. As passion which develops from childhood is hard to kill, many of these teenagers are now the young professionals we see in Ghana’s agricultural sector today. They are the ones to take the baton from the older generation that conceived the dream of the “Science Agenda”.

Unfortunately, today agriculture as a subject of study is conspicuously missing from the Ghanaian basic schools’ curriculum. I wonder if it is so in other African countries. In my opinion, if children are not exposed to agriculture during their days in basic school it will be difficult for them to develop an interest in it when they grow up. To get rid of agriculture from the basic schools’ programme is to eclipse a large percentage of the sum of options for career paths our young ones could yearn to follow.

This is not to say that every child is expected to become an agriculturist when they are of age. But it is very important to enable the sight of those who are going to bask in the benefits of tomorrow’s agriculture- the young ones who will wake up to see this dream fulfilled. They should be prepared for the task of sustaining the effect of the Science Agenda for Agriculture in Africa for subsequent generations to continue the flow.

Photo credit: Anoop Kumar