Technology is undoubtedly the new world order, impacting all spheres of modern existence. From agriculture to medicine, the driving forces are science, technology and innovation (STI), all of which rely heavily on rigorous research and development.
Agriculture plays a pivotal role in Africa’s economic agenda, contributing significantly to employment, food security, and economic growth. It accounts for 15 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on average and is a key source of livelihood, providing employment for over 65% of the working population and 40% of export earnings. The sector is dominated by smallholder farmers, who produce 70% of the food supply on an estimated 33 million farms, according to a 2022 report by the Africa Development Bank. Improving agricultural productivity in Africa is therefore key to economic growth and poverty reduction.
The African Union has recognised the centrality of technology in socio-economic development. In 2005, it developed Consolidated Plan of Action on Science and Technology, which outlined strategies to improve the policy environment and support innovative mechanisms.
The road to optimum agricultural productivity on the continent is, however, still long and packed with many obstacles. They range from declining fertile lands, climate change, environmental pollution, to noxious weeds and pests. To redress them requires progression of agricultural technology, utilisation of innovative technologies, and exploration of opportunities to address challenges affecting technological development, uptake and use, particularly biotechnology.
The invention of modern biotechnology was positioned as a potential tool within farmer s’ toolbox to help resolve agricultural challenges ranging from low crop yields to damages caused by pests, diseases and drought that have affected agricultural production in Africa.
Addressing these challenges call for a number of actions that span policy prescriptions to technological interventions, with the aim of ensuring that rural populations have access to technologies that can catalyze adequate food production.
For example, it is known that application of some technology in agriculture can raise farmers’ yields, reduce excessive use of pesticides and other agro-chemical inputs and contribute to the development of crops that are tolerate to drought conditions.
Technology has a big place in steering a vibrant, commercial, and modern agriculture sector. Indeed, the continent is replete with the many benefits of agricultural technology. They include superior yields, greater resistance to pests and diseases, climate tolerance, and relatively shorter maturity periods. There is, therefore, a need to promote innovative agricultural technology transfers that address farmer productivity constraints.
These innovative and cutting-edge agricultural technologies, which include genetic modification, gene editing and other areas of agricultural biotechnology, are intended to improve the health and wealth of communities by mitigating production challenges, enhancing productivity, and contributing to the continent’s economies.
Whereas steady growth has been observed in technology development, there has been little diffusion of these products to their intended beneficiaries – farmers and consumers – due to persistent bottlenecks that lead to low return on investment.
These challenges need to be addressed by actions from high-level decision makers and relevant government institutions across the continent, to facilitate both in-country and cross-boundary value chain optimization and trade. Such action should facilitate capacity building on barriers to technology and transfer, generate higher policy level interest and amplify efforts for transformation of agriculture.
It is in this regard that the inaugural African Conference on Agricultural Technology (ACAT) will be held in Nairobi from October 30 to November 3, 2023, and subsequently after every two years. The conference, whose theme is “Agricultural Resilience through Innovation”,will shine the torch on agricultural innovations, bringing together government representatives, industry leaders, policymakers, technical experts, private institutions, farmers, women and youth to define practical actions and solutions.
Kenya will co-host the global conference with AATF and seek actionable solutions to the challenges facing agriculture that will also drive change and foster growth.
The meeting will highlight concerns of farmers not accessing innovative technologies; facilitate capacity building on barriers to technology transfer; generate higher policy-level interest; and amplify efforts for transformation of agriculture and adoption of technologies and innovations.
It will also address the current inadequacies in policies, laws, regulations and institutional frameworks to support their adoption.
Dr Kanangire is the Executive Director, African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF).