Increasing investments in agricultural research for development (R4D) could bring the much-awaited agricultural transformation to Africa and help address the rising wave of youth unemployment and its attendant poverty, according to the President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Dr Kanayo Nwanze. Delivering a talk at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan, Dr Nwanze said Africa and indeed Nigeria should not shy away from committing more resources to agricultural research and development if they really want to witness an African Green Revolution.
“Agric research is the cornerstone of development… it is the vehicle that conveys development and we must invest in it,” he said.
Dr Nwanze, who completed his visit to IITA on Wednesday, also supported calls for investments to rejuvenate research institutions such as IITA—a position earlier made by Nigeria’s former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
According to him, such investments will have a positive trickle down effect on the youths by way of generating improved technologies that could attract youths to agriculture and also build their capacities in solving both present and future challenges to food security. Citing research studies, Dr Nwanze said that for every dollar invested in agricultural research, returns on investments were about US$9 in sub-Saharan Africa.
In 2003, African governments made a commitment to allocate at least 10 percent of national budgets to agriculture but not many have actually met the target. Consequently, low investments in agriculture places Africa in a disadvantaged position behind its Asian and Latin American counterparts in areas such as irrigation, fertilizer usage, and advanced seed technology. Despite its agrarian nature, Africa spends billions of dollars each year importing food, including 45 percent of its rice and 85 percent of its wheat. Dr Nwanze in his lecture titled, “Rejuvenation: Investing in agriculture for the future of Nigeria and its young people,” said that Africa could turn around its ‘fortunes’ for the better by paying more attention to agriculture.
“Our leaders need to know this. If we are thinking of investing in the future of our children, then we must think agriculture. The impact of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by agriculture in any country is twice that of other sectors,” he explained.
Dr Nwanze, from Nigeria, who was part of those that led IITA’s work on the biocontrol of cassava mealybug in Africa in the early 1980s said that the success of the biocontrol program was able to save cassava—a staple to more than 200 million people in Africa. That is, every dollar invested in biocontrol research had saved one person in Africa.
He said the breakthrough in the biocontrol program also demonstrated the importance of agricultural research, stressing that even the Green Revolution in Asia was a product of agricultural research.
The IFAD president said that the growing population in Africa, which in the case of Nigeria will double by 2050, demanded more attention to agriculture.
“This is the only way to have regional stability, cohesion, peace, and development,” he said.
He commended IITA for its work on agricultural research, and pledged IFAD’s support in rejuvenating the Institute.
IITA Director General, Dr Nteranya Sanginga said that the growing youth population is both an opportunity and a ‘time bomb’ for Africa.
“They are an opportunity if we convert their energies to agricultural development but they could be a ‘time bomb’ if we fail to do so,” he explained.