Developing breakthrough agricultural innovations and technologies in Africa

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According to a recent World Bank report, the African continent and African agriculture are expected to be hit hard by climate change. African smallholder farmers who depend on agriculture as a source of livelihood are experiencing the effects of climate change, such as drought and extreme high temperatures, increasing water shortages and food insecurity. Ensuring they have access to new technologies would help them improve agricultural productivity and increase their resilience to the impact of climate change.

The increasing occurrence and severity of extreme weather events related to climate change require all stakeholders involved in agriculture, including national governments, public and private research institutes, universities and non-governmental organizations, to step up their efforts to ensure that new agricultural innovations and technologies are available to farmers.

Fortunately, new agricultural tools, innovations and technologies like those to be deployed by CORAF/WECARD are being launched almost every day in Africa. From stress-tolerant crop varieties and the best crop seeds, to soil health innovations, innovative solar-powered irrigation technologies, apps and drones. If adopted, these game-changing innovations can help improve Africa’s agricultural productivity and help farmers thrive and be food secure, even in the face of climate change.

The question then arises, how can development practitioners who deliver these innovations scale up the adoption and use of these technologies? How can we make it easier for them to master these innovations and technologies?

Demonstration farms

The truth is that most new agricultural technologies and innovations are not easy to grasp. There is a need to provide farmers with the means to learn this technology. Demonstration farms can effectively serve as a means to help showcase, disseminate and accelerate the adoption of these breakthrough innovations.

Indeed, several countries, including Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, and Tanzania, are actively using demonstration farms to help spread some of the new agricultural tools, technologies, and innovations.

At the same time, some NGOs like Development in Gardening and research institutions like the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa have used demonstration farms as tools to spread agricultural innovations. Other African countries are expected to follow suit. Additionally, demonstration farms could help African farmers learn about new concepts such as precision farming: a system that ensures crops and soils get exactly the inputs they need for maximum growth and productivity. .

Extension services

Agricultural extension encompasses a wide range of support programs that exist around farmers to help them utilize research findings and other newer agricultural innovations and technologies. It includes training, consulting and technology transfer programs.

Across Africa, there are many examples where extension services have played a crucial role in spreading and increasing the adoption of new innovations. In Ethiopia, for example, agricultural extension has helped increase the adoption of improved seed varieties of Tef (one of the cereals commonly consumed in Ethiopia). Thanks to agricultural extension, in four years the number of farmers planting this cereal has increased from 300 to 7,741. Similar agricultural extension successes have been recorded in other countries, including Uganda and Mozambique.

Digital extension, in particular, can improve the success of extension services in Africa since about two-thirds of Africans have mobile phones. Indeed, several stakeholders, including NGOs, have taken advantage of the digital boom to contribute to the scaling up and dissemination of new innovations. In Kenya, for example, through mobile phones, Ojay Greene is sharing new varieties and the inputs farmers need to use to succeed in their farming ventures. And in 2014, the government of Kenya launched an e-extension program – a program that would allow the government to share with more than seven million farmers up-to-date information and other agricultural tools needed to improve agricultural productivity. Other countries using digital extension include Ethiopia, Ghana and Tanzania.

Climate change requires farmers to stay ahead of the curve and have access to the tools and innovations deployed every day. By facilitating farmers’ mental understanding and use of these technologies, African smallholder farmers can build their resilience to climate change. It is time for governments, universities, research institutes, private partners and NGOs to come together and help bring breakthrough research and technology to farmers.

Dr. Esther Ngumbi is a Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Entomology, a Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute and an Aspen Institute New Voices Fellow in Food Security, as well as a mentor and ambassador for Clinton Agriculture Commitments Global University Initiative.

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