Adoption of new agricultural technologies in SSA critical to improved outputs

SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA (SSA) WITH A POPULATION OF 884 MILLION people remains the most food-insecure region as 29% of its population is estimated to be food insecure in 2014, according to the International Food Security Assessment, 2014-2024.

Over the period under prediction, SSA’s food security situation is expected to deep even further by 34% as the share of population that is food insecure is projected to reach 346 million in 2024. The greatest deterioration of food security is projected to occur in Uganda. A major factor driving this is the high population growth rate at 3.2%, which is expected to remain high over the next decade. Another factor is the low production of root and tuber crops, which account for about half of the country’s diet.

Policy makers from Uganda, Kenya, Ghana and Tanzania tour biotech facilities in RSA

Policy makers from Uganda, Kenya, Ghana and Tanzania tour biotech facilities in RSA

However, a larger than expected increase in crop area devoted to new crop varieties could alter this outcome, says the report. What is more, like many other SSA countries, Uganda’s food security is highly sensitive to domestic production performance. Thus, the need to increase adoption of innovative crop varieties in SSA to stem food insecurity uptick cannot be gainsaid.

Currently, 40% of SSA’s gains in food production were due to expansion of hectarage under crops. In comparison, area expansion was responsible for only 12 percent of grain output growth in the Asian countries. This is not sustainable for land is inelastic; not to mention that such practices are environmentally unfriendly to say the least. Therefore, SSA needs to do more to make agriculture production growth dependent more in yields than area expansion.

Besides, according to USDA-ERS analysis report of June 2014, yields in SSA continue to be low by world standards. This is not good news for a region where domestic grain production accounts for roughly 80 percent of grain supply due to relatively low capacity to purchase expensive grains in the world market. Hence, the key to improving food security and reducing dependence on relief handouts in SSA countries, is improving performance of the agricultural sector.

This requires adoption of new technologies and other critical inputs like fertilizers. One would therefore expect that common sense would prevail in the region with regards to establishment of policies and laws friendly to mainstreaming of science, technology and innovation in agriculture. An example is modern agricultural biotechnology. Ironically, Africa is lagging behind all other regions in commercialization of biotech crops, with only three countries– South Africa, Burkina Faso and Sudan–currently growing such crops.

Pundits say that adoption of biotech crops could significantly boosting food production in SSA where grain yields are among the lowest in the world at an average of roughly 1.2 tons per ha while the average for the world’s low and middle income countries is 3.3 tons per ha and to 4.56 tons per ha in high-income countries.

Even so, in SSA countries like Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria and Ethiopia, science-based biotech policy and regulatory reforms are urgently required to facilitate commercialization of genetically improved crops. This would lead to higher levels of productivity which would in turn raise farmer’s incomes and reduce food costs for a population that spends well over 50 percent of its income on food.

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