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Placing African Agriculture on the Path of Sustainable Growth

By Alex Abutu

Sustainable agricultural productivity in Africa has been a huge topic of discussion in various conferences and foundations for decades with international and continental organisations offering solutions and support targeted at ensuring that at least the continent is properly positioned to feed herself.

This is basically because agricultural productivity across sub-Saharan Africa needs to improve to reduce hunger, malnutrition, transboundary movement, and poverty.

But most of the solutions and support received required strategic turnaround and a shift from what exists to trying new methods and approaches and this has not gone down well following noticeable resistance that comes with it.

Change is one of the most dreaded activities in human nature and this is reflected in most of the decisions that smallholder farmers on the continent take in their daily schedule.

Maybe that accounts for why increasing agricultural productivity across Sub-Saharan Africa is regarded as one of the most important problems this century.

A gentle but sustainable revolution to change the negative narratives of African agriculture is advancing on the continent and it is powered by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) which was created in 2003 to champion Africa’s emergence as an agricultural giant.

From a humble beginning in 2003, AATF took the bull by the horn by daring to step into areas hitherto declared as a-no-go-zone, availing African smallholder farmers with life changing technologies. It commenced operations with the mandate of tackling poverty and food insecurity through technological interventions.

After 20 years, AATF has visible presences in 24 African countries and has provided technological access to 3.9 million African farmers, while reaching reached 4.8 million farmers with various interventions. The forum has engaged 47.3 million stakeholders through advocacy, outreach and regulatory supports.

Within this period, the foundation was able to produce for farmers over 30,000 metric tons of seeds from its commercialization programmes with 178,000 farmers accessing seed markets. Over 150 seed companies benefited from AATF-led capacity enhancement programmes.

After two decades of operation, the foundation renewed its commitment to African farmers under a new five-year strategy which aims to build on the gains of the past.

The new strategy entitled: Scaling for Impact, has at its core, the transformation of farmers’ livelihood in Africa through scaling of agricultural technologies.

The strategy will be driven via pillars which include diversifying agricultural technologies and expanding frontier for next-generation products in Africa; accelerating commercialization and scaling of agricultural technologies to promote creation of a functional enabling environment for increased uptake of agricultural technologies; and more efficient markets in Africa.

Dr Canisius Kanangire, AATF Executive Director says the new strategy which will direct the Foundation’s interventions in the next five years will be implemented considering four cross cutting priorities.

These include: improvement of climate change resilience among farmers, enhancing access to resources, agribusiness and opportunities; technology for women and youth; improving nutrition of farmers and consumers and building knowledge to foster evidence-based decision making.

According to Dr Kanangire, AATF believes that its ability to effectively implement the strategy for maximum impact will be based on partnerships.

Dr. Belete Molla, Minister of Innovation and Technology Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia said that the strategy positions Africa to choose the best of modern technologies that can transform our nations.

“We are aware of some notions against technologies in Africa, which I believe should not get space in the region. Africa should aggressively invest in Science and Technology Innovation (STI); we should not always shoulder poverty in this century, he added.

Dr Goodluck Jonathan, former President of Nigeria said AATF had demonstrated its capacity to transform agriculture in Africa and the 2023-2027 strategy would contribute to the continent’s efforts to shape a bright and prosperous future that would contribute to its ability to feed itself and create wealth for its people.

Jonathan, who is AATF Agriculture Technology Ambassador, noted that: “The AATF’s new strategy aims to promote the adoption of new technologies to increase crop productivity, improve food security and support sustainable development.

He emphasized collaboration between different stakeholders, including farmers, researchers, policymakers, and the private sector, to co-create a conducive environment for innovation and technology transfer.

He added that ‘‘It is encouraging to note that more farmers and stakeholders are benefiting from the support of organisations like AATF, which recognizes the critical role of innovation in agricultural food system transformation.”

Dr. Aggrey Ambali, Chairperson, AATF Board of Trustees, said the launch marks an exciting moment for AATF as it re-energises for the future with learning from the past and promise to ensure African farmers a brighter future through better results-based approaches.

Ambali said AATF work and interventions would be guided by a new vision of a prosperous, resilient, food- and nutrition-secure Africa.

AATF has demonstrated a renewed commitment to this vision by focusing on accelerating product development and intensifying efforts towards commercialization to facilitate uptake by farmers.

He noted that the new strategy placed emphasis on improving existing technologies and transforming them into super (NextGen) technologies capable of effectively addressing challenges faced by African farmers due to emerging challenges in the region.

A World Bank Policy Research Working Paper noted that most of Africa’s poorest people are farmers.

The majority (82%) of those in extreme poverty live in rural areas, and over three-quarters (76%) of working adults in extreme poverty are employed in agriculture.

AATF has set out a sustainable path as outlined in the 2023 to 2027 strategy to change the above narrative through the transformation of farmers’ livelihood.

As noted by Kanangire, “we look forward to an exciting five-year period of joining hands with farmers and all our partners to deliver technology scaling for real impact.”

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