Conference Conclusion

After three intense days of discussion that covered four complex themes, participants in the ASTI and FARA-led conference, Agricultural R&D—Investing in Africa’s Future: Analyzing Trends, Challenges, and Opportunities, did not solve the myriad challenges laid out on the conference table. But the important event that took place in Accra, Ghana December 5-7 did succeed in its goal of devising a much-needed vision for agricultural research in sub-Saharan Africa in the next decade.

Since the 1980s, the international community—researchers, donors, and policymakers—have put the issue of agricultural research and development (R&D) in Africa on the backburner due to modest successes in the continent’s agricultural productivity. But in the wake of recent food price crises, unpredictable “rollercoaster” funding, and burgeoning population rates, the topic is once again emerging as an urgent concern.

ASTI and FARA teamed up to take advantage of this increased interest in agricultural R&D in Africa to relaunch a serious discussion about how to overcome the challenges facing the continent—from poor regional integration to a lack of PhD-trained researchers. (For an overview of and links to the conference presentation, see the conference website.) The ASTI-FARA Conference brought over 70 leading figures from more than a dozen countries to tackle this major challenge. (For a complete list of participants, see the conference program.)

The “timely” event, as Hans Binswanger-Mkhize called it, marked ASTI’s new role as an analytical think tank—rather than just an ad hoc data collection service, as it has been in the past. ASTI will select some of the 21 papers and 11 case studies presented at the conference to create a major analytical book.

Please view photos from the event on ASTI’s flickr stream and video testimonals from some participants on ASTI’s YouTube channel.

Networking in the Sun

Poolside coffee breaks provided conference participants who hailed from North America, Europe, and a number of African countries–including Botswana, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, and Senegal–with opportunities for sideline discussions. Participants included researchers (NARS, universities, CGIAR centers) and donors (World Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, SIDA, and USAID).

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The Small Country Problem

Several “red threads” weaved their way through the conference discussions. One such thread, the “small country problem”, refers to the fact that many smaller countries in Africa don’t have the resources or capacity to build effective national research systems.  Solutions suggested for this “problem” include regional agricultural R&D collaboration. On day three of the conference, which was devoted to Theme 4. Aligning and Rationalizing Institutional Structures of Agricultural R&D, Kathleen Flaherty presented a study that provided insight into this issue. Her study, The Agricultural R&D Challenges of Small Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, looked at the dimensions of research systems in “the smallest of the small” countries. ( Download PDF). She concluded that these systems “must find ways to adapt to the constraints they face through innovative institutional arrangements”.

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M&E and More

Papers and Presentations

  • Arega Alene, Yigezu Yigezu, Jupiter Ndjeunga, Ricardo Labarta, Robert Andrade, Aliou Diagne, Rachel Muthoni, Franklin Simtowe, and Tom Walker. Measuring the Effectiveness of Agricultural R&D in Sub-Saharan Africa from the Perspectives of Varietal Output and Adoption: Initial Results from the Diffusion of Improved Varieties in Africa Project Download PDF | Presentation
  • Ackello-Ogutu and John Mburu. Cost-Benefit Analysis of Implementing a Centralized National Agricultural Research System Policy in Kenya Presentation
  • Leonard Oruko and Howard Elliott. The Role of Evaluation in Strengthening Agricultural R&D in Sub-Saharan Africa: Information, Instruments and Actors Presentation
  • Catherine R. Ragasa, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, and George Owusu Essegbey. Measuring R&D Performance within an Innovation System Perspective: An Illustration from the Nigeria and Ghana Agricultural Research Systems Presentation

No Research without Researchers

Theme 2 viewed the agriculutural R&D challenge through the lens of human resources. It raised the following questions:

  • What is the best university model for generating top researchers?  Is there one or are there more to chose from?
  • What is the point of weakness in the education system? Undergraduate, graduate?
  • When there educational successes at one university, can these be replicated at other universities? [See
  • How do we get PhD students to stay in/return to Africa—or should this even be a concern?
  • Why push for more PhDs when there are not enough jobs?
  • How can Africa retain female students?

Papers & Presentations

  • Suresh Chandra Babu, Irene Annor Frempong, and Kwadwo Asenso-Okyere: Enhancing Capacity for African Agricultural Research: Conceptual Framework, Models, and Lessons
  • Nienke Beintema and Michael Rahija. Human Resource Allocations in African Agricultural Research: What Do The Data Tell Us? Presentation
  • Joyce Lewinger Moock: Network Innovations: Building the Next Generation of Agricultural Scientists in Africa Download PDF
  • Louis Sène, Frikkie Liebenberg, Mick Mwala, Festus Murithi, Séraphine Sawadogo, and Nienke Beintema. Staff Aging and Turnover in Agricultural R&D: Lessons from Five National Agricultural Research Institutes in Africa Presentation

Theme 1 Presentations

The rest of the day’s presentations are available on SlideShare.

Conference Opens

Conference participants wait for the first session to begin. Photo: Susan Buzzelli

More than 70 participants from around the world have gathered in La Palm Royal Hotel in Accra, Ghana for the ASTI-FARA conference (December 5-7).   Agricultural R&D: Investing in Africa’s Future: Analyzing Trends, Challenges, and Opportunities is organized around four themes:

Today, presenters who tackled Theme 1 concluded that the need is high and the time is ripe for boosted investment in agricultural R&D in Africa. In his presentation The Growing Opportunities for African Agricultural Development (Presentation),  Hans P. Binswanger-Mkhize said that prospects for realizing agriculture R&D goals in the continent are currently high.  This, he said, is due to: Rapid growth and the potential for strong demand; an improved domestic policy environment and business climate; the existence of increased incentives to invest in agriculture; and the proliferation of new technologies for production and processing. Participants agreed, however, that roadblocks endure. Gert-Jan Stads, for example, highlighted the continent’s funding rollercoaster in his presentation  Africa’s Agricultural R&D Funding Rollercoaster: An Analysis of the Elements of Funding Volatility (Download PDF; Presentation)

Theme 1 Papers & Presentations

  • Samuel Benin and Hans P. Binswanger-Mkhize. Public Expenditures and Public Research Expenditures on Agriculture in Africa
  • Hans P. Binswanger-Mkhize, Derek Byerlee, Alex McCalla, Michael Morris, and John Staatz. The Growing Opportunities for African Agricultural Development
  • Derek Byerlee. Producer Funding of R&D in Africa: An Underutilized Opportunity to Boost Commercial Agriculture Download PDF
  • Keith O. Fuglie and Nicholas Rada. Policies and Productivity Growth in African Agriculture
  • Alejandro Nin-Pratt. Agricultural R&D Investment, Poverty and Economic Growth in Sub-Saharan Africa: Prospects and Needs to 2050  Download PDF
  • David J. Spielman, Fatima Zaidi, and Kathleen Flaherty. Changing Donor Priorities and Strategies for Agricultural R&D in Developing Countries: Evidence from Africa Download PDF
  • Gert-Jan Stads. Africa’s Agricultural R&D Funding Rollercoaster: An Analysis of the Elements of Funding Volatility Download PDF