AGRF 2017: Agricultural research in West and Central Africa still has a long way to go

06/09/2017
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Scientist tending to plants© SIA KAMBOU / AFP

Compared with their English-speaking peers on the continent, French-speaking researchers from West and Central Africa are lagging behind in terms of agricultural research. Experts at the 7th edition of the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF 2017), which opened in Abidjan on Monday, September 4, highlighted the need for them to catch up.

The first meeting of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Canadian Government was held on Day 1, on the theme, "Comprehensively incorporating research in innovation systems to support multiple channels of sustainable agricultural intensification with a visible and rapid impact on living conditions for populations." The outlook for research in French-speaking Africa is not the brightest; indeed, during the discussion it was said that French-speaking researchers are still a long way behind their peers.

Agricultural research in Africa: a somber outlook

"We are experiencing huge setbacks in [agricultural] research," noted Kimseyinga Savadogo, Program Director at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), sounding the alarm bells. "When we observe the level of funding for research in Africa, seven countries are dominant, none of which is French-speaking". He went on to point out: "Certainly, contributions from the outside world are extremely important, but for countries that depend on it, this funding is volatile."

The eminent Burkinabé researcher and agroeconomics specialist also identified the small number of researchers in French-speaking Africa, as well as their age: of the ten countries in Africa with the most researchers over the age of 50, six are French-speaking. The results of the research are often insufficient; and there are still too few publications by French-speaking researchers. Of the roughly 5,000 annual publications in the field, only about 30 are issued by French-speaking African researchers

"More worrying is the fact that French-language research is based on unsuitable curricula that are not adequate for the needs of students," complained Savadogo. "Training in agricultural sciences tends to take place in a vacuum and the wealth of research is also limited by the fact that the literature is often in English, meaning that the basic information needed to facilitate optimal use is not understood."

The need for a new policy

"In terms of research, it is time for French-speaking countries to follow the global trend instead of seeing themselves as a separate group," suggested the expert. He also urged States to reform university curricula to make them more attractive, to train future researchers in policy analysis, and to create strong links between various university systems in African countries."

"We must also reinforce specialist centres and work together," said Abdou Tenkouano, Director of the West and Central Africa Council for Agricultural Research (WECARD), which acts as a centre for technical expertise in agricultural research for economic development organizations in the French-speaking sub-region (Economic Community of West African States, Central African Economic and Monetary Community, Economic Community of Central African States, etc.). Partnerships are essential, and the coordination of our actions has often been fruitful."

Abdou Tenkouano cited the example of "our own robust measures" set up by the West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (WECARD), which strengthened regional cooperation in terms of agricultural research, the sharing of resources between French-speaking countries in West and Central Africa, and public-private partnerships.

Another member of the panel, Jean-Michel Sourisseau, a researcher at Centre de coopération internationale en recherche agronomique pour le développement (CIRAD) – a French agricultural research centre that works with several countries in Africa to propose combining simple innovations and technologies – cited the examples of Benin, Burkina Faso and Nigeria, where small amounts of fertilizer are combined with modern water management techniques.

AFRG 2017 is organized by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), an African organization that aims to place farmers at the heart of growing economies on the continent. AGRA relies on a network of partners who mobilize resources and invest in order to achieve the agricultural transformation of Africa.

The African Development Bank (AfDB) is one of the partners of AGRF, along with the African Union, the African Fertilizer and Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP), AGRA, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), and the Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU), among others.