By Dr. Ousmane Badiane
October 01, 2017
The most effective way to reduce poverty is to raise the productivity of resources that poor people depend on for their livelihood. For most African countries, these resources are agricultural land and labour. Growth within the agriculture sector does not only lead to improved food security among rural farming communities, it also spurs growth in other sectors of the economy as farmers spend their incremental income on locally produced goods and services. With sustained growth and transformation of the agricultural sector and the rural economy, more wealth is created, generating fiscal resources to invest in infrastructure, education, health, science and technology − all catalysts for economic transformation and industrialisation.
Agriculture is however a technology-intensive undertaking and is bound to be even more so in the decades to come. While we are looking for responses to the technological challenges faced by the agricultural sector today, we also need to pay attention to the future. The global community cannot meet the challenge of feeding an additional 2.5 billion people by 2050 without a more productive and competitive agricultural sector in Africa. A failure to sustainably and competitively raise production in the agricultural sector would penalise African countries in two significant ways. Global food supplies would rise less, leading to higher food prices. African countries would not only miss the opportunity to earn foreign exchange from higher exports, they would also have to import food at higher prices to meet their domestic needs.
At AATF we are doing what we believe is important for the continent and its future. What we do today as a continent and what others do will affect what we become. Through our work in partnership with others, we are ensuring that Africa has the relevant expertise to manage a variety of technologies so that the question is not whether to use or not to use a particular technology but rather how much we have mastered particular technologies to the level where we have the freedom to select what benefits our farmers and the continent.
We continue to work with country governments and organisations in Africa and elsewhere on a number of public-private partnerships to avail to smallholders technologies that can address key problems they face for enhanced productivity and improved livelihoods. Such technologies include those that aim at increasing yields, improving nutrient content, dealing with pests and mitigating climate change.
Another key element to accelerating agricultural transformation is an enabling environment that will nurture public-private partnerships and encourage investment in the sector. In countries where the agricultural sector has witnessed remarkable performance, there has been strong political commitment and support, often at the highest levels of government. Governments, donors, farmer groups, private sector, and civil society all play important roles in driving a common vision for agricultural development.
We are encouraged by progress made during 2016. We saw more products get to farmers’ hands – some of them novel such as the TELA Bt maize planted for the first time in South Africa – bringing total number of hybrid maize seed released through AATF since inception to 110 (99 through WEMA and 11 through the Striga Control in Maize Project). More seed companies expressed interest in our products, increasing the number of companies working with AATF to 40 by end 2016. Despite the challenges posed by the Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease, certified seed produced increased to more than 4,800 tonnes through our WEMA and Striga Control projects.
Close to 1,960 tonnes of this seed was sold to farmers – sufficient to plant 78,000 hectares of farmland (at a rate of 25kg/ha). The enabling environment greatly improved especially for biotechnology, though we continue to experience a number of challenges. We are doubling our efforts and working more closely with governments to find answers and facilitate further progress.
As I commence my service as Chair of the AATF Board of Trustees, I am encouraged by the achievements we have realised over the years with our partners. I recognise and salute the efforts made by my predecessors, especially Prof Idah Sithole-Niang, in steering this unique initiative towards success. During the year, we welcomed to the Board Dr Ingrid Wünning Tschol, Senior Vice President for Strategy at Robert Bosch Stiftung GmbH. I look forward to tapping into her extensive experience as we strategically steer AATF towards successful realisation of its goals. With her and other colleagues, we will work with management to enhance the position of AATF as a major player in the technology area.
May I therefore take this opportunity to thank our partners, including governments, investors, my fellow trustees and our staff for their continued support during 2016. I urge them to keep up their interest in AATF as we look to doing more during 2017.