Mind the gap…

Excising banana explants. Photo by IITA.
Excising banana explants. Photo by IITA.

IITA was established in 1967 to increase and improve food crop production, and soil and crop management for sustainable agricultural development. The Institute has become integral to the quest by sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) to attain food and income security. Multi-pronged approaches, in partnership with national and international organizations, on natural resource management and the genetic improvement of staple crops in the humid tropics and tropical savannas have led to the development of high-yielding varieties. These have resilience to counter multiple biotic and abiotic threats, and new technologies have been established for crop protection and sustainable natural resource management. Since its establishment, the institute has become a pacesetter in agricultural development in SSA.

This issue commemorates the 45th anniversary of IITA. It focuses on the successes, challenges, and prospects of the genetic improvement programs which have been the cornerstone of IITA’s success in improving food crop production in SSA. These innovations in genetic improvement, together with supportive policies and training, have dramatically improved crop productivity and lifted millions out of poverty.

However, achieving self-sufficiency in food production and reducing poverty still remain as intractable problems in many countries here. There are many reasons for this situation. Inadequate economic and political systems, conflict, adverse weather, lack of crop production support mechanisms, inadequate funds for research and development, inefficient marketing structures, and a limited pool of trained scientists are key factors for the poor performance of the agriculture sector in SSA1.

Many governments are embarking on initiatives to establish agriculture as a commercially viable entity to produce enough food and create opportunities for employment. However, institutional reforms are also required to establish sound technical capacity, infrastructure, and enabling policies for the benefit of technological innovations to be fully realized and to facilitate farmers’ access to inputs and markets.

Governments are urged to show greater commitment to invest in reforms that can foster the establishment of a strong and sustainable agricultural system. This is essential to cater to the demands from economic growth and the rapid rise in population (set to double by 2050 2) and to develop the adaptive capacity needed to cope with risks from climate change. Without these, the current situation can only worsen and increase the levels of hunger and poverty.

1 Joubert, G.D. 2007. Trends in Africa’s crop production and the way forward on research and development. African Crop Science Proceedings 8: 5–7.
2 Eastwood, R. and M. Lipton. 2011. Demographic transition in sub-Saharan Africa: how big will the economic dividend be? Population Studies 65: 9–35.

Countries need strong leadership to introduce changes in implementing agricultural development programs.
— Dr Nteranya Sanginga, Director General, IITA

Leave a Comment