Agricultural Research in Africa: Why CAADP should follow IAASTD

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    CAADP, the Comprehensive African Agricultural Programme for Development is shaping African agricultural development programmes. The lead agency for implementing the fourth pillar on agriculture research, technology dissemination and adoption is Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), Ghana. The agricultural model that FARA research promotes is not, however, without its problems.

    Based on broad research that assesses to which extent agricultural research under CAADP addresses the needs of smallholder farmers and promotes good agricultural research policies, APRODEV and PELUM (Participatory Ecological Land Use Management) argue that CAADP should follow the approach of the IAASTD, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (1). Sustainable development is translated by IAASTD as equitable, diverse, local and democratic farming systems, which has the potential to ensure food security and supply local food markets.

    Orphanhood of African agriculture

    The background and context of agriculture in Africa is bleak. Structural adjustment programmes have lead to the neglect and underinvestment in agriculture and to the dismantling of public extension service, infrastructure and research facilities. It has resulted in a situation where Africa’s food import bill has risen four-fold between 1994 and 2009 (2). Plans to revitalise African agriculture have been led by NEPAD and its promotion of CAADP in 2002. Subsequently, African heads of states committed themselves to spending 10 per cent of national budgets in agriculture and to achieve at least 6 per cent annual agricultural growth. However, commitments by African member states to double investment in agricultural research and support to productive agricultural systems have not been met. This leaves African agriculture like an orphan left to market forces.

    Promoting an outdated farming model

    CAADP aims to increase agricultural productivity principally by promoting conventional industrial farming models associated with the Green Revolution. This model often prioritises practice of mono-cropping, crops for export markets, expensive external input such as chemical fertiliser, pesticides and purchasable 'improved' hybrid seeds. Often, this approach is provided in packages to farmers, sometimes in contractual agreements with companies, often with improved access to credit and privatised extension services (for example, extension networks run by local agro-dealers paid by agribusiness companies). Farmers are often encouraged to borrow money to invest in high-tech inputs, this increasing their costs of production, on the assumption that increased sales in local markets will be more than enough to repay their debts (3).

    This not only presents pressure on individual farmers and a risk of becoming poor contract farmers. It is also an increasing burden for African economies. Production models that lower input costs, increase the diversity of farming systems, and, importantly, increase production levels are viable options. They must be taken on board.

    The use of pesticides by farmers is responsible for widespread contamination of ground water and for millions of cases of poisoning a year (4). The use of chemical fertilisers often increases yield, but reduce natural soil fertility and degradation of farmland. Contribution to climate change by conventional agriculture is responsible for around 60 per cent of nitrous oxide emissions from chemical fertilisers mainly (5), expensive hybrid seeds that undermine reproductive seed rights and increase dependency of farmers on external inputs and intellectual property rights (IPRs). There is a risk to lose biodiversity, the main insurance for resilience and adaptation to climate change, which has grown over 10 000 of years and been cultivated and owned by farmers. The solution by AGRA, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, is less of a ‘new vision for agriculture’ but simply a continuation of an industrialised approach, which puts efficiency and control over resilience and diversity.

    Lopsided stance on GMOs

    CAADP has a lopsided stance on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and FARA advocacy for strong IPRs regimes is biased towards companies and threatens farmer's rights to retain and exchange their traditional seeds.

    GMOs are judged contentious by IAASTD with variable yield gains of 10 to 33 % as well as yield declines in other cases. IAASTD states that biotechnological research and development involving IPRs frameworks can 'concentrate ownership of agricultural resources' and that there is 'particular concern that present IPR instruments eventually inhibit seed-saving, exchange, sale and access to proprietary material necessary for the independent research community to conduct analyses and long term experimentation on impacts' (6).

    Experiences on GMOs growth in the Americas and Asia show that these do not provide long-term solutions to sustainability challenges, but rather increase royalties for Trans-National Corporations (TNCs). Moreover, transgenic proliferation has led to the de-valuing and abandonment of traditional knowledge and diverse breeds, which are an asset for the future.

    Reproductive seed rights

    Traditionally, seeds business is women’s business. Women have invariably been responsible for food and nutritional needs of their families. They have acquired traditional knowledge of the species and ecosystem that surround them and have been critical to seeds selection, breeding, planting, harvesting and food or medical use. However, women’s traditional reproductive seeds rights are increasingly put at risk and undermined by the new, capital-intensive vision that is being promoted in Africa.

    While CAADP notes that special attention must be given to role of women, FARA is weak in analysing and elaborating on gender specific policies and technologies. On the whole, women farmers are paid little more than lip service in CAADP programmes, even though women grow 80 per cent of the staple food in Africa and account for over 70 percent of agricultural workers and 80 per cent of food processors (7).

    The right to full and meaningful participation

    Farmer organisations, farmer-to-farmer networks and their support organisations should partner with researchers and be in the driving seat on identifying agricultural research priorities. An mapping by INcluding Smallholders in Agricultural Research for Development (INSARD) found that agricultural research for development agendas narrowly focus on interests of the private sector and a few commercial farmers (8). This means handing over responsibility ‘from seed to the plate’ to a few private sectors and technology driven firms to help the many.

    CAAPD itself concludes that there is only limited evidence that stakeholder participation in CAAPD implementation is generating the required representativeness and the desired substantive contributions to policy design and implementation, particular from non-state actors (9).

    The future belongs to agroecology

    IAASTD calls for investment in sustainable, low-input farming systems, urging for the promotion of ‘biological substitutes for agrochemicals' and alternatives to chemical pesticides. It argues that 'technologies such as high-yielding crop varieties, agrochemicals and mechanisation have primarily benefited the better resourced groups in society and transnational corporations, rather than the most vulnerable ones’ (10).

    Documented evidence shows that sustainable agro-ecological food production can achieve long term yields equal to or greater than conventional farming. Studies found that average yield increase was around 79 per cent across a wide variety of systems and crop types, and leguminous cover crops could fix enough nitrogen to replace the amount of synthetic fertiliser currently in use .

    Monocropping and high tech input are increasing dependency and vulnerability to climate change and economic crisis. Practices such as crop rotation (11) and inter-cropping increase the availability of food throughout the year, increase diversity of food production and use seeds and breeds with higher tolerance to climate extremes and pest when compared to conventional farming.

    Public research for public goods

    Research into common goods may need less high technology. But it will need a better understanding that we as humans are part of nature, and need to refrain from dominating and destructing the Planet. Experiences show that private sector shape research agendas that may generate high profit margins while locking out solutions that may be less costly but very efficient, simply because they do not provide high returns on investment. Sustainable and lasting solutions therefore lay with public independent and participatory research policies close to farming communities and their needs, and that put farmers – not laboratories and monopolistic enterprises – at the centre of attention.

    Time has come to invest in farmers, and to put food production back into the local social and ecological context in which it belongs. For this, a change of mind-sets is needed that embraces diversity and localised decentralised adapted farming models. CAADP should incorporate a strong focus on agro-ecological innovation areas in its research, extension and curriculums of training institute that value farmer’s knowledge. An encouraging development is the declaration by the 2nd African Organic Conference held in Lusaka, Zambia in May 2012 ‘calling on the African Union, CAAPD and NEPAD to initiate and guide an African Union–led collation on sustainable organic and agro-ecological farming systems (12).

    Karin Ulmer is Senior Policy Officer - Trade, Food Security and Gender at APRODEV


    1. See APRODEV and PELUM briefing paper “Agricultural research in Africa: Why CAADP should follow IAASTD”, available at The IAASTD analysis is available at
    2. FARA, Regional Policy Dialogue: Promoting Access to Regional and International Markets for Agricultural Commodities in East and Southern Africa. Workshop report, March 2010:15. 
    3. See film “Bitter Seeds” by Micha Peled, 2012 and “Le monde selon Monsanto” by Marie-Monique Robin, 2008 
    4. IAASTD, Agriculture at a crossroads: Executive Summary of the Synthesis Report, 2009: 6,8.
    5. IAASTD,Agriculture at a crossroads: Volume V: Sub-Saharan Africa, 2009:2,98. 
    6. INSARD, Mapping EU-SSA agricultural research for development: CSO engagement and resource allocation processes, 2011.
    7. CAADP, Highlighting the Successes, 2010:23
    8. IAASTD, Agriculture at a Crossroads: Executive Summary of the Synthesis Report,2009: 6; and Global Summary for Decision-Makers, 2009:21,23
    9. Jules Pretty, Agroecological approaches to agricultural development, Background paper for the World Development Report 2008:3; Catherine Badgely et al, Organic agriculture and global food supply, renewable agriculture and food systems, 22(2), 2007/
    10. APRODEV/FoEE/IFOAM/PAN, Crop rotation: Benefiting farmers, the environment and the economy, 2012.
    11. Gaetan VanLoqueren et al, How agricultural research systems shape a technological regime that develops genetic engineering but locks out agroecological innovations, 2009, published in Elsevier Research Policy 38 (2009) 971-983
    12., and African Union Heads of State and Government Decisions on Organic Farming, Doc. EX.CL/631 (XVIII)


    This article was published in Great Insights Volume 1, Issue 7 (September 2012)

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