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Biosciences for Farming in Africa

Meeting the needs of the projected population of 2 billion in Africa by 2050 will require a massive increase in food production. This is a huge challenge, but there are also many opportunities.

Africa has approximately 33 million small farms representing 80% of all farms on the continent.  Smallholder farmers, the vast majority of whom are women, are a particularly important group as they produce as much as 90% of agricultural output in Africa.

Poor quality planting material, depleted soils, limited water resources and losses due to pests and diseases have kept African farmers’ yields at one-quarter of the global average. Few farmers use modern high yielding, locally adapted seed. Just by applying existing and available agricultural advice and technologies, the productivity of African agriculture could double or treble. And new agricultural technologies are being developed.

In view of the challenges involved all existing methods to improve agricultural productivity deserve serious consideration, and should be made available for farmers to make use of them.  Africa is a continent of immense richness; this wealth needs to be harnessed.

The aim of this project is to encourage dialogue and to promote a better understanding of the available options for improving agricultural productivity in four African countries – Ghana, Tanzania, Nigeria and Uganda. The project aims to work in three general areas:

A – Opinions and Ambitions. Production and dissemination of a scholarly publication which synthesise information and views from opinion leaders about the potential benefits, concerns, application and consequences of new technologies for farming in Africa.

B – Communication and Dialogue – a Media Fellowship Programme. We ran a series of Professional Development Fellowships for media professionals, focusing in particular on the science of plant breeding. Journalists and editors from radio, television, newspapers and journals were enrolled, by competitive application, in a programme that offered technical training combined with field-visits, mentoring and support, and long-term networking opportunities among the Fellows and with the research community in their country.

C – Strengthening and Enabling Implementation. Studies of how to strengthen extension services that deal with the application of the new technologies and processes. Extension agents play the crucial role of linking research institutions to the intended end users of agricultural research products and technologies – farmers.