Interview with Dr. Dr Yemi Akinbamijo, Director General, Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa
INTRO: In this interview, conducted in April 2014, Dr Akinbamijo implores the continent of Africa to invest more resources to agricultural research, and to agriculture in general, to improve agricultural production in line with the Malabo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security.
What is the role of FARA in food security?
FARA is the apex body in the continent charged with the coordination of agricultural research in the continent of Africa. FARA occupies a unique niche with the role to make the African farmer a competitive player in the agricultural sector.
What is the role of FARA?
FARA has the mandate and the authority to convene global and continental positions that affect Africa. This includes issues that affect Africa in terms of food policy, research orientation and implementation. We set the agenda, tone and direction of agricultural research in the continent.
How does FARA achieve its goals?
Let me give an example. FARA in collaboration with the African Union and NEPAD co-ordinating agency in South Africa have come up with, for the first time, an African led, African driven science agenda for agriculture in Africa. This means that we have a framework that will systematically drive us in the direction of food secure nations.
How do you overcome the challenges that still abound in the continent?
We have challenges in the agricultural sector, the chief of which is the lack of institutional capacities and know how. We know what the challenges are, but what are trying to do is to take advantage of the economies of scale. In other words, if we something good happening in Kenya, how can we make good use of it in Central Africa? If we identify a common challenge on the continent, how can we draw on the strength of partnerships, how can we draw on the strength of the political leaders to have them on our side and to put the political clout behind our science?
How do we make use of these connections to excel in the continent?
A bird does not fly with one wing. That is a Nigerian proverb for you. Science without policy amounts to zero, and policy without science also amounts to zero. Let me explain. I have over 30 years’ experience in this field, 20 years of which I did full time research scientist job and the other 10 years I have been on the policy environment, so I understand the connection between policy and development.
Are we seeing progress from this collaboration?
The whole idea of getting science into the politics and the politics into the science is alive and well in Africa now. Today we have a pipeline in Africa’s agricultural agenda. We have had CAADP 10th Partnership platform meeting in Durban in March this year, in April we had the Ministerial conference and after that we went to Malabo, Equatorial Guinea at the 23rd Ordinary Session of the African Union (AU)
This is what I mean by science and policy emerging. The partnerships are starting to work and that is very encouraging.
Are these partnerships starting to show that long-term success in Africa is possible?
Well, it has worked in countries that have succeeded in their war against food insecurity, and Africa will be no exception. Why are we getting hand-outs from Europe? Why are we receiving aid? Why is it that when we are short of food America has to send us soybeans, maize, milk etc. Why? Don’t we have enough maize? How much of that maize is contaminated by aflatoxins? How much of that maize did not make it to the market, while on the other side of the world half of the food on the table ends up in the dust bin? You see the oxymoron we are in?
We have challenges but they are not insurmountable. But we do not have the right mix of the science and the politics. The countries that have got the right political and scientific mix well have put the problem of food security behind them.
The degree of investment in agriculture is directly proportional to what we will see in terms being independent of donor and international aid.
Let us now look at the research funding component
The amount of funding in agricultural research in Africa is appalling. We are still asking Governments to invest 10 per cent of public revenues in agriculture and they are not doing it. We have been asking them to do so, but we are not there yet. Until this is achieved without cajoling countries, and maybe we see some of the countries putting in 13 per cent or more, then we shall be sure we can achieve our goals of feeding the continent. At that point we shall know that the governments are putting their money where their mouths are.
If we continue to ask for G8 or America to pay for our research bill, it is like hoping to raise your family from your neighbour’s kitchen. As we say in the science agenda, agricultural research on the continent is way too important to outsource to development partners. It is time to put our money where our mouths are. Let us increase investment in agriculture, in capacity building, and in infrastructure so that we can have a prosperous Africa.
Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) is the apex organization charged with the strategic role of coordinating agricultural research and development in Africa. FARA weaves together key networks and stakeholders on the continent and globally to reinforce the capacity of Africa to improve its agricultural science and innovation for food security and poverty reduction. FARA was established as an independent organization in 2002. It is based in Accra, Ghana. (www.faraafrica.org)