The Director General ofÂ IITA, Mr. Hartmann has said that dependant on rainfed agriculture is a major minus for the industry in Africa , just as he said that poverty and hunger are complex issues with political and economic dimensions.
Speaking on the role ofÂ Â agricultural research in fighting food insecurity & poverty, Hartmann African farmers are mostly small holder and subsistence, and lack access to micro_credits and farming inputs such as fertilizers, good seeds and pesticides, and markets.
In some countries the â€˜food basketâ€™ is too dependent on a few crops. Cereal dependent countries are often on the famine lists, whereas cultures that have more complex diets have more protection. If one crop fails, they can consume more of the others.Â But poverty is not the only reason.
Conflicts contribute greatly to food insecurity. Bad governance, where the countries have not invested adequately in agriculture and infrastructure also contributes, as did the policies imposed on Africa by international financial institutions in the 80â€™s and 90â€™s.
When asked if he thinks that the current food crisis will get better or worse?. The IITA DG said â€œThe crisis created by rising food prices has cooled down but everyone knows this is just temporary. It will emerge again as economies recover from this recession.
â€œHowever, the food crisis can be turned into opportunities for a food secure future. It has led to renewed interest in agriculture and is an opportunity for African countries to reenergize their agricultural sectors.
â€œCountries need to diversify their food systems and to trade more regionally and be less depended on food imports. Those worst hit by the food crisis were heavily dependent on internationally_traded commodities such as rice, maize, and wheat. While prices for these commodities increased, prices for African commodities such as cassava, cowpea, yams and so on, remained more or less stable.
â€œThe most effective way to end hunger and poverty is by increasing investments in the agricultural sector to improve productivity, diversify food systems, and intensify food processing and regional trade for wealth generation. We need not re_invent the wheel, technologies and know_how exist, they just need to be put into practice.
How can research resolve the food crisis in the short and long term?
Approaches to address food availability, accessibility and utilization should be grounded on science and facts generated through research. Research can provides those facts and relevant technologies.
In the short term, working on markets to stimulate production and reduce food prices is necessary. In the longer terms, consumers in some countries need to be helped to learn to diversify their diets so they and the country is less dependent on just a few crops.
Do you think agricultural research in Africa has improved over the years?
Yes, definitely! For example, IITA used to provide three of every four varieties of yams to Ghana. Today, we provide only one of every four. Ghana produces the rest. This exciting picture is repeated across many countries. Many African leaders are increasingly supporting agriculture. Nigeria now funds its agricultural research institutions very well.
Investment in agricultural research offers long_term returns to the people that are often higher than those of the stock market.
We focus our efforts on some of the most important food crops of sub-Saharan Africa.
These include maize, cowpeas, cassava, yams, soybeans, bananas and plantains and on systems that boost food production.
We develop technologies to help increase food production to meet demands.Â But increasing production has to be done with care; it can be harmful to farmers because it often leads to lower prices, so we seek ways for them to create wealth from their crop by helping to ensure the extra yield finds its way to markets either raw or processed, to create alternative markets, which also reduces post-harvest losses.