Funding agricultural R&D and meeting the MDG target

Member countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) will need to significantly increase their investment in agricultural research and development (R&D) to achieve the aim of the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of eradicating extreme hunger and poverty by 2015.

Women selling yam, Ghana. Photo by IITA.
Investment in agricultural R and D needs to be increased to ensure Africa's food supplies. Photo by IITA.

The focus on agricultural R&D stems from the fact that, for all ECOWAS countries, more than half of a 1% reduction in poverty at the national and rural levels can be attributed to the growth of the agricultural sector.

A study by the IITA-led Regional Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System West Africa (ReSAKSS-WA) finds that to achieve this remarkable agricultural growth, countries in this regional bloc will have to almost double their current share of agricultural spending.

On average, an agricultural funding growth rate of 18.3% is required to achieve the target 6% rate set out by the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP). However, successful reform of public institutions could lower this share substantially, according to a report by Mbaye Yade and colleagues.

CAADP was initiated in 2002 by the African Union. It is a strategic framework which guides the development efforts and partnerships of African countries in the agricultural sector. It has, among others, the following objectives and principles at its core: agriculture-led growth for poverty reduction; increased funding for agriculture (10%), and at least 6% agriculture growth, all aimed at achieving MDG1 and other welfare targets; greater efficiency and consistency in the planning and execution of sector policies and programs; increased effectiveness in translating government expenditure into public goods and services; and expertise and mechanisms to measure performance against objectives regularly and transparently, and keep policies and programs on track.

ReSAKSS-WA works with ECOWAS to provide strategic analysis, knowledge management and communications, and capacity strengthening, towards achieving the aims of CAADP.

To promote monitoring and evaluation, the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development requested ReSAKSS to develop a monitoring and evaluation (M&E) framework which would guide the continent in implementing CAADP.

Working with national and international partners, ReSAKSS has since backstopped some member countries in developing their National Agricultural Investment Programs (NAIPs) with this aim in view.

Current scenario
The ReSAKSS study shows that, under current trends, expected performance in agricultural growth is projected to stabilize at around 4.4% by 2015. However, with the successful implementation of emerging national strategies for the sector, agricultural growth is expected to increase to 6.4% from 4.6% under a business-as-usual scenario. Even the CAADP target of 6% annual agricultural growth for each country is not sufficient to achieve MDG1 by 2015, except for Bénin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Ghana, and Senegal. Therefore, other plans with additional efforts are projected for the other countries.

The first M&E report from ReSAKSS indicated that the average share of agriculture in the 2005–2008 period was 10% and above in Burkina Faso, Niger, Ghana, Senegal, and Mali. It was below 10% in Bénin, Gambia, Liberia, Togo, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Côte d’Ivoire. With regard to the planned 6% growth in agriculture, the average rate for Gambia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone in the 2003–2007 period was 6% and above. For all other West African countries, the average was below 6%. Apart from the incidence of stunting among children, all major indicators of welfare show an overall improvement in living standards in the 2000s compared with the 1990s.

Incidence of poverty in West Africa has decreased by about 18% in the 2000s, according to a study. Photo by IITA.
Incidence of poverty in West Africa has decreased by about 18% in the 2000s, according to a study. Photo by IITA.

The incidence of poverty using the international threshold for comparison—the US$1/person/day—decreased by 18% in the 2000s compared with the 1990s. Per capita gross domestic product (GDP) increased by 35% between 1990 and 2008. The Global Hunger Index shows a 14% decrease from the 1990–2009 value. Overall, it seems that recent trends in welfare have been positive in West Africa.

What the future holds
Regional Agricultural Investment Programs (RAIP) under CAADP are being prepared and will be funded through various mechanisms. IITA should work closely with the regional economic communities or RECs in preparing such programs because of the Institute’s wealth of experience in R4D work aimed at increasing agricultural productivity in Africa, in particular with ECOWAS in priority crops, such as cassava, maize, and rice. Already some discussions are taking place but these should be increased. Given the poverty challenges facing West Africa and Africa in general, all avenues for productive collaboration should be explored.

To implement the Africa-wide M&E system, the system has to be adapted in each West African country. Two requirements for this are the establishment of a SAKSS in each country, and consequently, the inclusion of the M&E indicators in the SAKSS and country’s annual reports and surveys.

This would make M&E a routine and important activity carried out annually. In turn, this would provide each country with the opportunity to ascertain how much progress is being made and to change the aspects of a strategy that are not working in a timely manner.

The state of Nigeria’s forests

David Ladipo,

The IITA forest. Photo by K. Lopez, IITA.
The IITA forest. Photo by K. Lopez, IITA.

Nigeria is blessed with a large expanse of land and variable vegetation, but this important resource is not sustainably used or managed. Many rural dwellers in the past have treated our forest resources as inexhaustible.

Today the story is different. The average rural dweller now realizes that the forest is “finished,” but poverty continues to force people to exploit even the relics of remaining forests.

The Federal Government has, over the years, attempted to generate baseline data on the state of our forests including their use. These studies have provided data for a better understanding of the state of forest resources, the rate of environmental degradation, and the rate of forest depletion.

They also emphasize that present-day forest cover is under pressure as a result of human activities such as agricultural development where vast lands are cleared without conservation considerations, large-scale peri-urban housing project development, fuelwood generation, uncontrolled forest harvesting including poaching for logs and poles, and urbanization.

Pterocarpus soyauxii (local name: Silk-cotton) in IITA. Photo by J. Peacock, IITA.
Pterocarpus soyauxii (local name: Silk-cotton) in IITA. Photo by J. Peacock, IITA.

In Nigeria, deforestation or loss of vegetation or the selective exploitation of forests for economic or social reasons is very common. In most areas major losses have been recorded in vegetation, forest complexity (diversity), or in germplasm (quality).

The deforestation rate in the country is about 3.5% per year, translating to a loss of 350,000–400,000 ha of forest land per year. Recent studies show that forests now occupy about 923,767 km2 or about 10 million ha. This is about 10% of Nigeria’s forest land area and well below FAO’s recommended national minimum of 25%. Between 1990 and 2005 alone, the world lost 3.3% of its forests while Nigeria lost 21%.

In addition, some state governments are removing the protected status from forest estates without regard for the environment. The State Forest Departments have been unable to curtail the spate of requests to establish large-scale oil palm plantations in forest estates. The unfortunate impression that has thus been created is that the forest estate exists as a land bank for other sectors as demands continue nationwide.

As the forests are exploited, so too is the biodiversity. Plant and animal genetic resources are also lost with this important genetic resource, vital for breeding in future. Conserving the wild relatives of cultivated crops is also needed.

What factors continue to threaten biodiversity and contribute to poverty? These include deforestation, desertification, habitat alteration, invasive alien species (plants and animals) importation, poor land management (fire and agricultural systems + grazing), climate change, unilateral development decisions, poor political accountability, and poor budget allocation, release, and implementation.

Young Milicia excelsa (Iroko). Photo by J. Peacock.
Young Milicia excelsa (Iroko). Photo by J. Peacock.

We cannot afford not to conserve our forests and thus lose the vital ingredients of rural development. The situation is getting worse every day and the need for forest conservation and restoration is becoming critical.

With the new National Forestry Policy and the National Document on Biodiversity Conservation Action Plan, a new approach is needed now on forestry resources conservation in Nigeria. Enforcement and a community approach will produce positive results.

All stakeholders need to understand that biodiversity is critical to the maintenance of a healthy environment. Its role is enormous in meeting human needs while maintaining the ecological processes upon which our survival depends. Biodiversity not only provides direct benefits such as food, medicine, and energy; it also affords us a “life support system.”

Biodiversity is required for the recycling of essential elements. It is also responsible for mitigating pollution, protecting watersheds, and combating soil erosion. Controlling deforestation will ensure that biodiversity exists and can help reduce the impacts of climate change and thus act as a buffer against excessive variations in weather and climate. It can then protect us from catastrophic events.

Increasing our knowledge about biodiversity can transform our values and beliefs. Knowledge about biodiversity is valuable in stimulating technological innovation and providing the framework for sustainable development. Let us protect our forests as a start.

Ticket out of poverty

Market in Nigeria. Photo by IITA
A market in Nigeria. photo by IITA

The world’s food supply has for the last few decades worked well but now new dynamics, as reflected by the recent food crisis, call for change. The current system, based on large-scale production in the developed world, is efficient and responsive to market dictates though distorted by subsidies. It could be stabilized when complemented with a more significant system from the developing world. Such a two-tiered system would also protect poor regions of the world from extreme food scenarios.

Today’s world food situation has been well aired in the media. But what is not fully appreciated is the opportunity it also brings for Africa. As the most food-deprived region of the world, Africa needs a more robust agricultural growth. This food crisis, albeit temporary, could be used to trigger an agricultural turn-around. African countries are food importers and thus affected by international prices of traded food commodities, but have untapped assets to exploit for the immediate and longer term.

The African food basket is, in many countries, complex and its commodities are affected differently by international food prices. For example, while maize prices in Tanzania were dragged up with the world prices, the effect on sorghum, cassava, and plantain was much less. This allows some immediate substitution and underscores the need for focusing on local production, helps reduce foreign currency needs that limit a country’s purchasing power, and stimulates rural economies to benefit both the rural and urban poor.1

Food commodities also allow for substitution in agroprocessing. If rice is used to produce starch, it can be replaced with other crops such as millet/sorghum or roots and tubers. Bread does not have to be 100% wheat. Tef, banana, sweetpotato, millet, sorghum, and a mix can be used that includes cassava, and yam. This richness needs to be more appreciated and encouraged.2

For the less immediate term Africa just needs to produce more (see Figure 1). Its food output is extremely low. But its diversity of ecologies, altitudes, and cultures, is a powerful asset. Africa can produce more food by expanding acreage, unlike Asia. But other things need to happen before the potential of ample arable lands can be realized. Immediate needs would be rural feeder roads, access to credit and inputs, and a stimulated processing sector. The latter is increasingly important as the growing urban migration means more consumers are far from production zones and food shelf-life and convenience are major concerns.

Figure 1. Index of total agricultural output per capita by region (index 1961-2005). Adapted from FAOSTAT 2006. Source: Hazel and Woods.
Figure 1. Index of total agricultural output per capita by region (index 1961-2005). Adapted from FAOSTAT 2006. Source: Hazel and Woods.

For the medium term, Africa has to increase yields. For most food crops of sub-Saharan Africa3 yields can be increased by 150-300% immediately, because varieties already exist with this potential4.

To benefit more from what it grows, Africa also needs a parallel effort to reduce huge (postharvest) losses, ranging from 18 to 40% depending on the crop. Investments in food processing and transformation, energy, and roads are needed.

This processing and transformation capacity is also critical to address the rural-to-urban migration, which is itself a major challenge. Not long ago, 80-90% of Africans were rural; today most are urban. Wars have accelerated rural-to-urban migration. Africa must increase production even more, because it is not one to one in feeding the urban versus the rural poor. As production systems function today there is tremendous waste at all levels, rural and urban.

A holistic approach to the sector is essential and includes the now well-rehearsed list of needs and problems—infrastructure, finance, taxation, corruption, communication, soils, inputs, productivity, and numerous postharvest technologies and processes. As these elements are developed and constraints cleared away, the approach has to adjust. Underinvestment in infrastructure is costly in many ways. Transport difficulties, for example, give Malawi’s (2007/8) maize surpluses few outlets so that farmers do not fully gain from favorable global prices.

Family eating banana
Family eating banana

It is not uncommon to have food shortages in one part of a country, when another has food surpluses. Poor information and transport systems, plus the short shelf-life of many commodities prevent Africa from benefiting fully from its harvest. In Ethiopia, widespread drought (2003) in some parts of the country put at risk over 12 million people, while in other parts, prices collapsed due to a bumper crop of cereals (Borlaug and Natios). Zambians (2004) were suffering from a shortage of cassava, when Nigeria had abundant surpluses.

Small producers are one group that needs special attention. While they are the key to Africa’s food self-sufficiency, it is hard for them to respond effectively to increased food needs on their own. One way to support them is to encourage the movement of their produce into alternative uses within the food chain.1 Again, this means investments in the agroprocessing sectors and a slew of processed food products. Farmers take all the risks but rarely benefit long from any gains.

Conclusion: The full use of Africa’s assets—arable land, different ecologies, altitudes, cultural differences, and eating habits—gives Africa resources more powerful than oil. Emphasizing and then benefiting from the agricultural sector has positive repercussions that reach far into all segments of an economy, in particular in increasing employment at all levels and with it, purchasing power.

1 Hartmann. 2004. An Approach to Hunger and Poverty. IITA.
2 Cereal imports in the last couple of years have increased by a factor of three to five times.
3 Rice is the exception where the yield gap is around 67%.
4 For example, IITA varieties of these crops already have this potential built into their genetic codes.