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Science, People & Politics: Contents

Science, People & Politics. Issue Three (July to September), Volume iii, VII, 12th July, 2011.

African food security depends on continent-wide, country and geographically-specific nuanced socio-political and economic modelling

By Helen Gavaghan, Leeds.

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Professor Mony Jones

Professor Monty Jones, giving the Behrens Lecture
at the University of Leeds, 23rd June, 2011.

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"If people do not have enough to eat they do one of three things. They riot, emigrate or die," said Professor Monty Jones, executive director of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa, speaking to international experts attending a conference on food security in Africa at the University of Leeds, 22nd to 24th June.

Transforming African agriculture from today's reality, in which most production is by small holders, into farming as a commercial proposition, in which a region could become a bread basket for the continent, and from which countries earn foreign currency, is a long-term strategic goal, he told his audience. Today Africa's food production lags the rest of the world.

For eventual commercial farming, attention will have to be paid in the medium term to the welfare of small holders, said Professor Jones.

He stressed that though 95 per cent of African agriculture is rain fed, the problem of food security for the continent is not monolithic. "Our systems are diverse. " He does not envisage a continent-wide green revolution for Africa.

"There is no blue print for the whole of Africa. In the medium to long term we need to marshall people to a co-ordinated activity. There is enough food to go round. We are not asking for food for free. "

The obstacles are formidable. Among these he cited increasing energy prices, water shortages, the varied consequences of climate change, the need to identify new materials that will work in 2050 in view of the reality of climate change, and urbanisation. He side stepped the issue of whether the interests of small holders and large-scale biofuel production clash.

"Energy prices and a shortage of water are two issues we must address. Africa is now exploring how to promote cross border trade. For example, between Benin and Nigeria. "

Effective policy will be the cornerstone to effective and successful change, said Professor Jones, but direct access is needed to the right policy makers, even if only for a short time.

The broad outline within which groups need to work are: knowledge transfer; effective institutions; infrastructure; and policy. Within that outline one needs: Advocacy and policy; Access and knowledge; capacity; and partnership.

"If we continue with the current linear system in which the farmer has no influence or feedback following harvest it will not work. It hasn't worked for 50 years. There needs to be a consistent exchange of ideas among researcher, producer, consumer and markets. "

Citing in generic terms the experience of one farmer Professor Jones said that within the linear model a 60 per cent increase in yield did not translate into increased income. Added value was needed. Researchers identified varieties with taste, and best for post harvest production, and processing. The aim, he said, being to turn the intellectual property of the new plant variety into more income for the farmer, more profit for the private sector, better quality for the consumer, and to give the researcher more impact for their work. In the example he was referring to, the intellectual property problem was established, institutions involved and a new product developed. At each stage of food production there should, said Professor Jones, be the possibility of interaction among the players.

"Trust, communication, leadership and unambiguous roles for the actors need to be established, and the means for facilitation. "

If networked development is well implemented there can be an increase in the farmer's income from between 100 and 150 per cent.

"In summary there is a need to strengthen and reform institutions by empowering end users, increasing the scale of productivity, by alignment of funding and ensuring diverse delivery systems and integrating research within the network, private sector and with education. "

As things stand Professor Jones said that Africa is experiencing the scourge of malnutrition, with 25 000 deaths each year, the rough equivalent of 50 jumbo jets crashing each week. Malnutrition, Professor Jones told his audience, is a silent killer, a death sentence for children which, if they live, impairs their physical and cognitive development.

In many African countries, said Professor Jones, food security is more of an issue than national security.

Professor Stephen Scott, the pro vice chancellor for staff at The University of Leeds, introduced the lecture. "Agriculture," he said, "is back on the agenda.

_________________
In 2004 Professor Jones won the World Food Prize for his work on NERICA, a high yield cross of the Asian and African rice species,O.sativa and O.glaberrima. He is based in Accra, Ghana. He is a plant geneticist with a Ph.D from the University of Birmingham in the UK. In 2007 Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Proof read by Fred Pearce, deputy editor Science, People & Politics.

None of the institutions linked to from this page either requested or paid for the links.

1. The Global Forum for Agricultural Research, accessed 11th July, 2011.,
2. Africa College, University of Leeds, acessed 11th July, 2011.

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