Issue 7, September 2011

Biocontrol offers benefits to Africa
From traditional to science based
Amazing maize
Local seeds and social networks
What sustains productivity?
Cassava processing research
Impact of R4D on farmers
Funding agricultural R&D
Outcome mapping
IITA’s new social science research agenda

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What sustains the productivity of African agriculture?

A study carried out to measure productivity trends and the effects of research and development (R&D) in African agriculture shows that, over the period 1970–2004, African agricultural productivity grew at an annual rate of 1.8%. Agricultural R&D, improved weather, and policy reforms were found to be the principal drivers of the productivity gains realized after the mid-1980s.

Researcher in Bioscience Lab, IITA. Photo by IITA.
Researcher in Bioscience Lab, IITA. Photo by IITA.

The study by Arega Alene, IITA’s agricultural economist, published in Agricultural Economics, showed that investments in agricultural R&D had an annual rate of return of 33%, proof that agricultural R&D in Africa is a socially profitable investment.

The study found that a strong growth of agricultural R&D investment of about 2%/year in the 1970s led to faster productivity growth after the mid-1980s, but stagnation of R&D investments in the 1980s and early 1990s led to slower growth in productivity in the 2000s.

Agriculture is key
Growth in agricultural productivity has been cited as the key to economic growth, and many researchers have in fact looked at the trends and sources of growth in agricultural productivity in developing countries. The extent of recovery of African agricultural productivity since the mid-1980s, however, varies widely, depending on the methods used to measure and explain it.

The study looked at total factor productivity (TFP) growth in African agriculture using available data on all African countries for the period 1970–2004. Data on agricultural production and conventional agricultural inputs for 52 African countries for the period 1970–2004 were obtained from the FAOSTAT database (FAO 2007). Meanwhile, data on agricultural research investments for 15 African countries for 1971–2001 were obtained from the Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators database of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). These countries were Bénin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, and Zambia.

Soybean field. Photo by IITA.
Soybean field. Photo by IITA.

Using conventional indices of productivity growth, the study estimated that the annual aggregate productivity growth in African agriculture was only 0.3% over the period 1970–2004. The poor aggregate performance was due to a decline in agricultural productivity in over one-third of the sub-Saharan African countries. With an annual growth rate of only 0.1%, the conventional approach implied that the performance of agriculture in the region was poor and that agricultural productivity stagnated.

In sharp contrast, the improved measures of productivity showed that African agricultural productivity grew at a much higher annual rate of 1.8% over the period 1970–2004. In sub-Saharan Africa, agricultural productivity grew at an annual rate of 1.6% over the same period. As expected, North African countries experienced a higher annual productivity growth rate of 3.6%. Although 20 countries experienced annual productivity growth rates of over 2%, only seven countries (Burundi, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Lesotho, Mozambique, and Sao Tome and Principe) experienced negative productivity growth rates, due largely to declining technical efficiency.

Technology drives agricultural productivity
Productivity decline during the 1970s was attributed to technological regress (−1.1%/year). However, technical progress (1.5%/year) was pinpointed to be the principal source of recovery of productivity during the 1980s.

The new measures demonstrated positive annual productivity growth in all three periods: 1970s (1.4%), 1980s (1.7%), and during 1991–2004 (2.1%). Unlike the conventional estimates, the improved measures demonstrated sustained increases in productivity growth over the years, with an impressive annual growth rate of over 2% achieved during and after the 1990s.

Motorized cassava grating machine commissioned by IITA-CFC in Sierra Leone. Photo by IITA.
Motorized cassava grating machine commissioned by IITA-CFC in Sierra Leone. Photo by IITA.

The results further showed that rainfall is positively and significantly related to agricultural productivity. This confirms that the weather is a critical constraint to agricultural production in Africa.

Despite the fluctuations in productivity induced by weather fluctuations, both trade and agricultural productivity exhibited an increasing trend after the mid-1980s.

The results showed a positive and significant association between trade policy reforms and productivity in African agriculture, suggesting that policy reforms indeed contributed to the recovery of agricultural productivity after the mid-1980s.

In particular, agricultural productivity grew at an impressive annual rate of over 2% after the early 1990s. This is consistent with recent data on economic recovery in Africa, as shown by stronger growth rates in agricultural gross domestic product (GDP) following improved macroeconomic conditions and commodity prices after the mid-1980s. The results demonstrated that technical progress, rather than efficiency change, was the principal source of productivity growth in African agriculture.

Alene said that a 10% increase in R&D investments would raise agricultural productivity by 2%/year. With an annual rate of return of 33%, R&D has proved to be a socially profitable investment in African agriculture. The analysis points to the need for increased investments in agricultural research to sustain productivity growth in African agriculture.

Alene, Arega D. 2010. Productivity growth and the effects of R&D in African agriculture. Agricultural Economics 41: 223–238.

Biocontrol offers benefits to Africa

Biological control programs implemented by IITA and partners on cassava green mite have brought benefits worth more than $1.7 billion to Nigeria, Bénin, and Ghana in the last 18 years.

Diseased plant. Photo by IITA.
Diseased plant. Photo by IITA.

Ousmane Coulibaly, IITA Agricultural Economist, describes the figure as “a conservative estimate.”

“The figure represents the amount those countries would have spent over the years on other methods such as chemical control and/or yield losses if they never adopted biological control,” said Coulibaly.

The cassava green mite is a pest that was responsible for a yield loss in cassava in Africa of between 30 and 50% until a natural enemy of the pest helped to contain the devastation. In 1993, scientists from IITA and partners identified Typhlodromalus aripo as one of the most efficient enemies against cassava green mite. The introduction of T. aripo reduced pest populations by as much as 90% in the dry season when pest populations are usually high; in the wet season, pest attacks are not as severe.

T. aripo from Brazil was first released on cassava farms in Bénin and, subsequently, in 11 countries; it is now confirmed as established in all of them, except Zambia. T. aripo has also spread into Togo and Côte d’Ivoire from neighboring countries. It spread to about 12 km in the first year, and as much as 200 km in the second year. Today, the predator of the cassava green mite has been established on more than 400,000 km2 of Africa’s cassava-growing areas.

Scientists say chemical control of the pest was ruled out because of possible adverse effects of chemicals on illiterate farmers and the environment. Also, disease pathogens and pests tend to develop gradual resistance to chemical pesticides over time. Moreover, most chemical pesticides are not selective and might destroy the natural enemies and the pests together.

Coulibaly notes that since the release of T. aripo, benefits in Nigeria have been estimated at $1.367 billion, followed by Ghana $305 million, and Bénin $54 million. Consumed by more than 200 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, cassava is a staple food that is rich in calories, highly drought tolerant, thriving in poor soils, and easy to store in the ground.

A 10-year strategy for the banana sector in Africa

Banana is an important staple food in sub-Saharan Africa. Photo by IITA.
Banana is an important staple food in sub-Saharan Africa. Photo by IITA.

The Banana 2008 Conference held in Mombasa, Kenya, provided the opportunity for developing a strategy to help propel the banana industry as an important engine of growth in Africa.

It was attended by more than 300 participants from the research and development arena, the private sector, and the business development, production and processing, policymaking, and marketing sectors.

Identifying priorities
The week-long conference focused on the themes markets and trade, production, and innovation systems. Within each theme, subthemes were identified along the whole commodity chain.

The participants identified priorities under the themes that cover the three banana types (dessert banana, plantain, and East African highland banana or EAHB) at three market levels: local, regional, and international.

The table shows the priorities identified by participants for each banana type and market level.

From priorities to action
Priority setting was the first step in strategy development. The next step was identifying who needs to do what to achieve these priorities.

Improving linkages
Improving linkages across the value chain is urgent if the banana sector is to be transformed. Better linkages, which depend on improved information provision and communication between actors, are important in achieving many of the identified priorities. Within markets and trade, for example, the successful matching of supply and demand depends to a large extent on an information flow through effective linkages.
Similarly for production, improved linkages are critical to solve the current gap between science and practice, and allow farmers to have access to knowledge so that they can address production constraints.

All stakeholders must recognize their responsibility to nurture synergistic relationships along the commodity chain. Principal actors (growers, traders, agribusiness, processors, retailers, and consumers) must be open to sharing information with other stakeholders. Supporting actors (those who provide services, inputs, and technologies) and those determining the operating environment (Governments and subregional trade organizations) have a key role to play in initiating and promoting new ways of working that encourage stronger linkages. Extension services provide a particularly important link in the banana chain and need to be strengthened—a role and responsibility of Governments.

To improve linkages across regions, participants suggested creating “knowledge platforms” to share current knowledge and to facilitate multisite testing, training, and education with farmers’ groups. Regional systems would feed into a pan-African system for consultative priority setting that is charged with exchanging information, strengthening capacity, forging partnerships, and developing policy to support banana production and trade across the continent.

Empowering farmers
The banana sector will be successfully transformed only if infrastructure is improved and the position of producers is strengthened. Farmers are greatly empowered by working together in cooperatives or farmers’ associations. Such farmers are in a much better position to address production constraints and to respond to markets. Information sharing and training are greatly facilitated, and effective innovation systems can develop more easily as the economy of scale is increased from individuals to organizations. Supporting actors, such as NGOs and community based organizations, have a crucial role in promoting the development of farmers’ groups. It is also in the interest of agribusinesses to support their creation and operation as it is more efficient and therefore financially viable for them to work with groups for example, in the supply of inputs and purchase of greater volumes of products.

Better linkages and farmers’ organizations will greatly facilitate the optimization of production practices, and also help to guide research priorities. Key actors who work with farmers in addressing production priorities are those providing technical services, particularly the extension services, and those working to develop new technologies and stimulate innovation, particularly NARS and the international research community. Actors determining the policy and operating environments also have a role in facilitating access to technologies and services. Banana genetic resources support production systems. Collecting, characterizing, and sharing banana germplasm will require the continuing efforts of the international agricultural research centers, NARS, advanced research institutes, and regional research organizations and networks.

Markets and trade
Again, effective linkages and participation in farmers’ organizations are needed to enhance farmers’ abilities to understand and respond to markets at all levels. However, markets are rapidly changing, and responding effectively and appropriately will be a major challenge across the banana chain.

At the local and regional level, expanding urban markets and the flourishing supermarket sector will offer many opportunities for banana growers and traders. Improved transport and market infrastructure, provided by local and national governments, is critical to stimulating growth in this area. Processing into innovative and durable new products will become more important to reach more distant regional markets and to smooth out seasonal discrepancies in supply and demand. Agribusinesses and regional trade organizations can guide interventions, with support from governments. Market information will be critical; the need to share this information will bring in actors in the communications field, such as the providers of mobile phone networks.

At the international level the dessert banana will continue to dominate trade, but changes in European trade tariffs will mean that production and freight systems in Africa will need to become far more competitive. There may be opportunities for well-organized farmers’ groups, for example, in supplying “fair trade” and similarly certified bananas. The main actors include international traders, airlines and shipping companies, supermarkets, standard-setting and certification organizations, governments, and regional and international trade organizations. Inland production areas are seriously disadvantaged with regard to transport costs and will require creative market opportunities, such as value-added processing.

Banana being transported by truck to city centers, Uganda. Photo by Piet van Asten, IITA.
Banana being transported by truck to city centers, Uganda. Photo by Piet van Asten, IITA.

Promoting innovation
Effective linkages are at the heart of successful innovation systems.

The Agricultural Science, Technology and Innovation (ASTI) system was adopted as the take-off point for promoting innovation.

In this model, effective linkages and empowered farmers were recognized as holding the key to innovation in the banana sector. Information and communication pathways are also fundamental. There is potential for innovation in all relationships across the banana chain, with all principal actors involved. Those who focus on supplying new technologies and promoting innovation are particularly important, specifically research organizations at all levels (national, regional, and international). The private sector also has a crucial role in facilitating innovation as a source of new technologies and also as a conduit for transferring technologies that may be familiar in a different context to a new set of banana producers or marketers.

Implementing the strategy
The Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) and its various elements will be pivotal to transforming Africa’s banana sector. The framework of FARA is the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) which has four pillars. Pillar IV aims to enhance agricultural research, technology dissemination and adoption, and its implementation is governed by the Framework for African Agricultural Productivity. The goals are to integrate natural resource management, encourage adoption of appropriate germplasm, develop sustainable market chains, and stimulate policies for sustainable agriculture. The banana strategy addresses these goals specifically for the banana sector, and thus fits squarely into the mandate of FARA.

Implementation of the strategy will begin by building an informed knowledge base organized around innovation platforms that both involve stakeholders and encourage ownership. Implementation of the strategy can happen under existing institutional arrangements. For research issues, NARS join into the subregional organizations such as West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (WECARD), Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA), and the Southern African Development Community. For trade issues the key bodies are the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). All of these, in turn, feed into FARA. Technical backstopping and technology validation at the regional level will be facilitated by the research centers of the CGIAR and their numerous and diverse research partners, both within Africa and outside the continent. Additional support in specific areas will come from the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation.

Banana fruit. Photo by IITA.
Banana fruit. Photo by IITA.

Banana researchers in Africa have been accustomed to collaborating within regional networks: Réseau Musa pour l’Afrique Centrale et Occidentale is a part of WECARD and the Banana Research Network for Eastern and Southern Africa is under the auspices of ASARECA. These networks have recently been widened to include NGOs and private sector participants. Links to banana researchers in other regions, for the exchange of information and technologies and for collaborative problem-solving research, are promoted through the global ProMusa network, which also constitutes the Banana and Plantain Section of the International Society for Horticultural Sciences.

Innovation platforms are now envisaged that will unite researchers, extension agents, farmers and farmers’ organizations, agribusiness staff, traders, policymakers, and development partners. Research priorities and technology dissemination strategies will need to be market-oriented and participatory, and use approaches such as collective action by farmers, farmer-to-farmer learning, market-led technology adoption, and mutual learning in the market chain.

The strategy for transforming the banana sector in Africa fits precisely in the FARA model for agricultural innovation and economic development, and can be implemented under existing institutional arrangements. Participants believe that this would facilitate increased visibility and the mobilization of the breadth of expertise and depth of resources needed for its successful implementation. Such an outcome could indeed help banana to realize its full potential as a major economic driver for sustainable and equitable development in Africa.