There is little doubt that agricultural research is of critical importance to the future of agriculture in Africa.
As an investment, it has been shown again and again to deliver high returns, in terms of both financial benefits (Alston et al. 2000; Evenson and Gollin 2003; although, see Morris and Heisey 2003), and broader livelihood impacts (Meinzen-Dick et al. 2004). Yet agricultural research is in crisis on the continent, its capacity decimated by a combination of government neglect and externally imposed policy conditionalities. This has resulted in a significant loss of key personnel and the undermining of locally based, contextually relevant research efforts. Neither the international system through the CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research), nor the private sector has been able to fill the gap.
In its 2005 report, the Commission for Africa recognises this challenge, and argues for a US$3bn injection of funds for technology-focused capacity building in Africa. Similarly, the Hunger Taskforce of the Millennium Project argued in 2004 that a science and technology-driven agenda – focused on a green revolution package of seeds, fertilisers and irrigation – was the route to meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) targets. The 2004 Inter Academy Council report also highlighted the challenges of technology development and associated capacity building. Everyone seems to agree that the years of neglect have been disastrous. However, large cash injections and calls for improving “capacity” are one thing; seeing this through to impacts on the ground is another.
This article points to an agenda for social research when thinking about what should be done. In this IDS Bulletin, Jones argues for the need for a new vision for agricultural technology development that can deal with the complexities of agriculture in the diverse settings across Africa. But whose vision should this be? How can complexity and diversity be dealt with? How can innovation systems be made robust, relevant and sustainable? How can the hardware of science and technology be linked to the software of institutions, policy and social dynamics? In sum: how should science and technology be governed?
The following sections offer three themes that should guide this debate. The first relates to how debates are framed and how priorities are set. The second focuses on the actors involved in innovation processes and the locations where innovation takes place. The third emphasises the challenges of organising agricultural research, and the institutional arrangements that govern access and control over knowledge, products and innovation processes. The conclusion highlights the need to inject social and political understandings into new policies for enhancing research and innovation processes in Africa.
This article comes from the IDS Bulletin 36.2 (2005) Governing Technology Development: Challenges for Agricultural Research in Africa