Although Africa is regarded as a rural continent, agriculture still plays an extremely important role in its development. At the Second Ordinary Assembly of the African Union in July 2003, a few African Heads of State and Government endorsed the “Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security in Africa” (Assembly/AU/Decl.7 (II). At the time, the agricultural sector accounted for 60 percent of the total labour force in Africa, 20 percent of the total merchandise exports and 17 percent of GDP.
For Nigeria, although as at independence, Agriculture accounted for over half of its GDP and about 80% of her foreign revenue; for a long time, the sector was overlooked as a potential most stable contributor to the nation’s economic growth. The discovery of oil in 1956 resulted to Nigeria’s heavy dependence on it over other sources of revenue until production began witnessing significant reductions resulting in the recessionary phase the country experienced between 2016 and 2017 – its first in over 20 years. In a bid to stabilise the economy, the current Government resolved to diversify the sources of revenue by providing a viable alternative for crude oil. Currently, Agriculture has consistently been one of the top performing economic sectors with a 12.5% nominal growth between 2016 and 2017. Singled out as one of the feasible solutions to the desired diversification, over N200 billion (Two hundred billion naira) of the national budget has been allocated to the sector, to focus on prospective interventions and possibilities for the intended economic growth.
On a continental level, the Maputo Declaration was a commitment by African leaders to boost the agricultural sector in their respective countries in the face of poverty, hunger and droughts and as part of their commitment a Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) was set up to focus on key areas of primary action which include;
- Allocating 10 percent of their national budgets to the agricultural sector
- Extending the area under sustainable land management and reliable water control
- Improving rural infrastructure and trade-related capacities for market access
- Increasing food supply and reducing hunger
- Agricultural research, technology dissemination and adoption
The Case of Sudan and Nigeria
In March 2018, The Republic of Sudan held its national agriculture week themed “It’s Time to Think Outside the Booth”. The summit among other issues addressed raised concerns about developing sustainable production systems in Sudan and strengthening agricultural research on food and industrial crops, forestry, livestock and food technology through its Agricultural Research Corporation (ARC). The research programs conducted by the ARC are essentially commodity based or discipline related and are intended to cover cash and food crops, emergent technologies like biotechnology, genetic resources and water harvesting. The government of Sudan also made attempts to benefit from international donor agencies for agricultural development by partnering with the Consortium of International Agricultural
Research Centres (CGIR), a relationship that will ensure that Sudan benefits from the world’s largest agricultural research programs. This partnership guarantees that the government of Sudan can develop and disseminate improved crop varieties, sustainable agro-forestry and integrated crop – livestock systems.
Nigeria on the other hand seems to have gone a step closer in adopting biotechnology in its food production and agricultural processes as it is believed to serve as a viable means of sustaining development in the sector and boosting food security.
According to Dr. Muhammad Lawan Umar of the Institute for Agricultural Research of the Usman Danfodiyo University in Zaria, “Biotechnology has made possible what was impossible for the traditional methods to make by use of the new techniques.” The global phenomenon of biotechnology is an innovation that was handed down to Africa by America in a bid to provide sustainable solutions to the population crisis the continent is currently concerned with. Accor
ding to United Nation’s estimates, Nigeria ranks as the seventh most populous nation in the world an equivalent of 2.57 percent of the total world population. Based on the current growth trends, by 2050, Nigeria will replace the United States as the third most populous nation. It has become necessary to proffer solutions to better manage food production processes to accommodate the growing population has become necessary.
The process of biotechnology has become one of those solutions that seem to be gaining traction in the agricultural space. Through this technology, genes of farmer-specified varieties of certain plants can be adapted to different ecologies in different African regions resulting in increased yields and commercialisation of more products. Th
is technology has also shortened the time for developing and releasing certain food crops, making them readily available and reducing delays in processing and production. Recently, a biotechnology ex
pert on cassava production, agriculture extension and rural development at the Oyo State College of Agriculture and Technology, Igboora revealed that presently, there are more than twenty genetically modified improved cassava varieties with an average yield of 25-45 tonnes per hectare. Moreover, in the cassava value chain, processing of improved cassava has resulted in high quality starch which is being exported from the country.
What more can be done?
Although these can be regarded as a step in the right direction, it is also important to strengthen regulatory frameworks in the adoption of the technologies. As with the government of Sudan, the agricultural sector is too broad to be left in the management of a single body or ministry, for abuse and misuse not to supersede the good motives of the innovation.
For Nigeria, it will be more beneficial if more attention is given to research and development agencies within the Ministry of Agriculture and collaborations with international research institutes are allowed to thrive in order to provide homogenised solutions to identified areas of concern within the sector.
Editor’s Note: This is the first part of a 2-week series on Agricultural Innovations. In next week’s edition, we will consider possibilities and specific strategies for improving Africa’s economies through innovations in Agriculture.