Rationale: The challenges of African agricultural research and development

Approximately 80% of all Africans depend directly or indirectly on agriculture for their livelihoods.  Agriculture provides 70% of Africa’s full time employment, one third of total GDP, and 40% of total export earnings.  Thus, Africa’s overall economic performance is inextricably linked to the performance of its agricultural sector.

There is enormous potential for agricultural growth in Africa.  Africa has twelve times the land area of India, which is self-sufficient in food production with twice as many people to feed.  Despite HIV/AIDS, Africa has a growing labour force and a widening range of higher yielding agricultural technologies and improved farming systems.  The large gaps between actual and potential yields present opportunities for raising productivity.  Rapid urbanisation is creating local markets for agricultural products, and trade liberalisation and globalisation are opening markets abroad.  Raising the output of the majority of small farmers would raise rural family incomes and improve food security.  It would also lower urban food prices and stimulate the rest of the economy.  It has been shown that each 1% increase in agricultural productivity in Africa reduces poverty by 0.6%.  Thus, a smallholder-led growth strategy has the potential to make a very significant impact on food security and poverty reduction.  The 2.5% annual growth since 1980 is a sign that some of this potential is being realised.

Over the past decade the overall state of governance and economic development in Africa has vastly improved.  A number of countries have emerged from conflict.  That, coupled with global economic expansion, higher demand and higher prices for commodities, has given Africa its best economic performance in many years, with a high of 5.1% growth in 2004.

However 2.5% annual growth is not fast enough to get ahead of Africa’s population growth rate (among the highest in the world) while coping with environmental degradation, civil conflict, and health problems such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.  The realisation that much more rapid progress is required is reflected in the African Vision established by AU-NEPAD, which is aims to achieve an annual growth in productivity of 6% per annum by 2015.  Pressure to achieve this vision has led to several important institutional innovations.  Amongst these is the AU-NEPAD Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), supported by an innovative Framework for African Agricultural Productivity (FAAP).  FAAP provides guidelines and criteria to encourage implementers and investors in African agricultural research and development to work in harmony at the scale and time frame required to achieve the African Vision.

In such a complex industry characterised by highly diverse social, economic, environmental and political contexts, there is no panacea.  Achieving the required increases in productivity will require sustained improvements in human and institutional capacity and policies that encourage innovation in all aspects of agriculture and related industries and services. High levels of investment are required by all actors in the production-to-consumption value chains, including policy makers and Africa’s development partners.  A strategy is needed to ensure that Africa acquires the necessary capacity for agricultural innovation. 

FARA’s History and Profile

The decision to create the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) was taken in 1997 during the Seventeenth Plenary Session of the Special Program for African Agricultural Research (SPAAR) by ASARECA, CORAF, INSAH, SACCAR, and SPAAR.  FARA was envisioned as a facilitating and information exchange forum among the SROs and as an apex body to represent Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). At the 2000 African Agricultural Research Week (Conakry, Guinea), it was agreed that:

  • SPAAR should be transformed into FARA, an entity serving the interests of the SROs and their NARS stakeholders, with a permanent secretariat located in Africa; and
  • the SPAAR Secretariat should manage the transition process. 

Box 1. Objectives and Themes for
FARA’s 2002-2012 Strategic Plan


  1. To promote pan-African agricultural research for development through enhanced support by national governments, development partners, and private sector;
  2. To promote and strengthen effective and efficient SRO and NARS to achieve their vision, mission and objectives;
  3. To facilitate the exchange of agricultural technologies, knowledge and experience by building mutual partnerships between SRO, IARC, ARI, NGO, the private sector, farmers and producers in Africa;
  4. To support relevant and cost-effective African regional research programmes;
  5. To catalyze the process of agricultural technology dissemination and knowledge dissemination relevant and appropriate for Africa.



  1. Advocacy of the role of agricultural research;
  2. Promotion of functional partnerships and strategic alliances;
  3. Accelerating sharing and exchange of knowledge;
  4. Stimulating the development and dissemination of new technologies and methodologies in natural resource management, genetic resource management and biotechnology;
  5. Stimulating policy and market development.


FAO agreed to host the Forum's Secretariat at its regional office in Accra, Ghana.

The process for establishing FARA was ratified during the SPAAR/FARA Plenary Meeting in 2001.  The first FARA General Assembly meeting (July 2002, Maputo) ratified the appointment of Dr Monty P Jones as FARA’s founding Executive Secretary, endorsed FARA’s first work program, and initiated discussions with donors and scientific partners about the funding and partnership arrangements needed to facilitate the implementation of the work programme.  The Assembly approved the work programme focused on five objectives and five themes, as shown in Box 1.

The first action of FARA, together with SPAAR, was leadership in the formulation of the Vision for African Agricultural Research, which has been adopted by NEPAD as the vision for the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP). 

FARA’s 2nd General Assembly (May 2003, Dakar) determined that FARA should, for the time being, focus on the first three themes.  A main feature of the Assembly was the side meeting and plenary debate on FARA’s role in biotechnology.  The FARA Secretariat was asked to report on the outcome of stakeholder consultations on biotechnology and biosafety issues at the next General Assembly.

FARA’s 3rd General Assembly (June 2005, Entebbe) endorsed FARA’s 2006 work programme, which addressed the first three themes set forth in FARA’s 2002-12 Strategic Plan.  However, there were increasing demands from the floor for FARA to address issues constraining the dissemination of new technologies, as well as to respond to the biotechnology consultation report that advocated a role for FARA in promoting common continent-wide biotechnology and biosafety policies. The floor also demanded that FARA pay more attention to policy and market issues.  FARA’s work programme for 2005-08 was endorsed with these elements partially addressed within the advocacy, partnership and knowledge themes.

FARA’s history has thus been characterized by active involvement of its stakeholders in setting the action agenda.  FARA is also guided by AU-NEPAD’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), for which it has technical responsibility for Pillar IV (agricultural research, technology dissemination and adoption). 

The needs and requirements of Africa’s farmers are at the centre of all FARA’s work.  FARA addresses these needs through its Strategic Plan, for which the General Assembly, attended by representatives of all stakeholders in African agricultural research and development, is ultimately responsible.  FARA’s direct constituents are Africa’s sub-regional organizations working in agricultural research and development.  The manner in which FARA adds value to the SROs is set out in the Framework for African Agricultural Productivity (FAAP). These interrelationships are depicted in the figure below. 

background figure

FARA’s changing environment and new insights

The present Strategic Plan, reviewed at FARA’s 4th General Assembly 10-16 June 2007, is based on a reassessment of where FARA had reached in 2007 and where it aims to be in 2016.  Since FARA was launched in 2002, Africa and its dominant agricultural industry have undergone a number of profound changes which justify the need to develop this new Strategic Plan.  Box 2 outlines some of the more significant changes that affect FARA’s operational context. 

One of the foremost changes was the endorsement, by African heads of state and government, of CAADP for focusing efforts to achieve the African Vision, and of FAAP as the way of achieving CAADP’s goals.  FARA has been entrusted through agreements with the African Union and NEPAD with leading the delivery of CAADP Pillar IV.  This requires FARA to add value to the SROs’ commitments to CAADP and FAAP in their sub-regions, and requires a new Strategic Plan that is coherent with those of ASARECA and CORAF/WECARD, and with the emerging strategies for the Southern and the North African SROs.  

Box 2. Significant changes in Africa and African agriculture to which FARA must respond

Changes that have already happened or are underway

  1. The Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) has been developed to provide goals and objectives and what needs to be done to achieve the African Vision of 6% per annum growth agricultural production
  2. The Framework for African Agricultural Productivity (FAAP) has been developed to provide guidelines and principles for the manner in which agricultural research can best contribute to achieving the African Vision.
  3. Strengthening and growing authority of regional organisations including, but not limited to, the African Union, the Regional Economic Communities (RECs), the SROs and FARA.
  4. Strengthening African national economies due to improved governance and increasing commodity prices.
  5. Renewed commitment to agriculture by national governments pledging to invest 10% of their national budgets in the industry.
  6. Renewed international interest in Africa as declared in the SeaIsland and Gleneagles G8 summits and growing commercial ties with Brazil, China and India.
  7. The shorter, more extreme and mostly adverse weather cycles attributable to climate change.
  8. The impact of globalisation on the competitiveness of African agriculture as a whole and, especially important to FARA, on smallholders and pastoralists in particular.
  9. The quadruple interrelated impacts of emigration from agriculture of the young, increasing feminisation, escalating proportions of women and children-headed households and the loss of breadwinners due to HIV/AIDS.
  10. The loss of human and institutional capacity due to under-resourced expansion of university enrolments, the emigration of many of Africa’s best agricultural professionals and restricted recruitment under structural adjustment policies.
  11. The emergence of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) as a potent threat to African and global peoples and economies.

Changes that are predicted in the life of this new strategy (2007-2016)

  1. Intra-African trade will be increasingly important.
  2. Prevalence and incidences of zoonotic and animal-borne diseases such as trypanosomosis (sleeping sickness), HPAI and Rift Valley Fever will increase.
  3. Climate change will lead to more frequent and severe adverse weather conditions, increasing vulnerability and making traditional farmer knowledge obsolete in the local context
  4. The need to feed more people will increase stress on land and water resources and accelerating soil degradation
  5. Water will become an increasingly scarce commodity.
  6. Increasing scarcity of oil will drive price increases in fuel and petroleum-based inputs, affecting food production costs and international trade.
  7. Bio-fuel production will alter market parameters, to which farmers will be required to adapt.
  8. The need to develop new varieties of African crops/livestock and new crop/livestock practices or systems, to meet changing market, weather, disease and pest challenges.
  9. Conservation and sustainable use of water catchments and biodiversity will become increasingly critical, drawing more attention to forestry and fisheries, as well as to livestock, which utilise the greatest proportion of Africa’s land area.
  10. Africa will have to take greater responsibility for maintenance breeding for their key crops
  11. The African Diaspora will become increasingly important as a market for preferred African food products, as a source of inward investment and as an intellectual resource at their home bases and on visit or return to Africa.

The way in which FARA and the collective SROs operate has changed since the first FARA Strategic Plan (2002 - 2012) was drafted.  The new Strategic Plan takes into account the increased strength of the SROs, as well as the new commitment and understanding of the principle of subsidiarity captured in the CAADP and FAAP frameworks.

The principal actors to whom FARA and the regional SRO are committed are the national agricultural research systems comprised of NARIs, CSOs, farmer organisations, CBOs, NGOs and private enterprise.  Enabling these diverse actors to function cohesively requires the adoption of holistic innovation systems approaches.  From this it follows that FARA’s new Strategic Plan must be concerned with facilitating and enabling the institutional changes and building the capacities required for strengthening Africa’s capacity for agricultural innovation.

In its five years of operation, FARA has gained new insights into the key components that underpin African agricultural development – namely productivity factors, natural resource management, markets and policies.  Recognition of the need for improved linkages between these components underpins the new Strategic Plan; several cross-cutting issues, such as gender, HIV/AIDS and sustainability are also integrated in the Plan.

With so many relatively young institutions and a rapidly changing world order, it is predictable that the pace of change in African agriculture will continue to accelerate.  This places a high premium on the new Strategic Plan being formulated in ways that will provide the flexibility for FARA to respond, while maintaining clear focus and direction.

FARA’s achievements

Since it was established in 2002 FARA has been able to develop a number of African-wide initiatives through consultation with stakeholders. 

ARA has signed an MoU with the African Union, strengthened its relationship with NEPAD and helped to draft key elements of NEPAD's Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP).  NEPAD has given FARA the mandate for delivery of Pillar 4 of CAADP.

Closely linked to CAADP, FARA developed and facilitated the consultations around, and endorsement of, the Framework for African Agricultural Productivity (FAAP), which presents principles for the evolution of Africa’s agricultural productivity programmes.  It has convened a large number of workshops, consultations and conferences to enhance Africa’s agricultural innovation capacity.

During the last five years the sub-regional research organizations have gained considerably in strength, and have shifted implementation away from fixed networks to a more flexible programme approach using responsive networking.  This process was heavily influenced by CAADP and the principles developed by FARA in the FAAP.

FARA’s advocacy has contributed, along with the work of many others, to encouraging national and governments to invest more in agricultural research and development.  Between 2000 and 2004, average investment in agricultural R&D increased from about 2% to about 4% of national budgets. Following the Maputo declaration by African governments, in which they pledged to increase investment in agriculture to 10% of national budgets, there is evidence of increased investment including:  Zambia’s plans to raise agriculture budgetary allocation to 8% by 2010; Malawi’s plans to allocate up to 12% to agriculture, food security, and irrigation and water department; Kenya’s launch of the “Kenya Agricultural Productivity Programme (KAPP),” with an allocation of over US$60 million to agriculture.  Leading the African countries is Mali, which is committed to allocating up to 14% of the total budget to agriculture during 2006.

FARA has developed and mobilised resources for the implementation of the Sub-Saharan Africa Challenge Programme (SSA-CP).  FARA commissioned an assessment of NARS capacities which led to the development of the programme for Strengthening Capacity for Agricultural Research and Development in Africa (SCARDA).  FARA has also developed several other initiatives that contribute to the delivery of NEPAD goals, with the potential for greatly enhancing African capacity for innovation in agriculture.  All these initiatives are coherent with the Strategic Plan (see Annex 3).

FARA’s comparative advantage to provide the networking support functions

FARA is better placed than the SROs to be the African voice in the Global Forum for Agricultural Research (GFAR) and other international fora on agricultural R&D, and to follow up on commitments made at the African Union and other high levels of African regional institutions.  FARA will also be more effective in advocating for increased and harmonised funding from sources in and out of Africa, especially related to the agencies that support multi-lateral projects.  FARA’s continental mandate facilitates synchronization of methodologies and data standards, and promoting access to knowledge and technologies that accelerate innovation.  FARA is also better equipped than the SROs to provide and respond to continental level policy and market analyses.  FARA’s continental mandate and global links facilitates harmonisation of approaches to capacity strengthening for agricultural innovation at all levels and the building of partnerships between African and non-African R&D institutions, and links with other research fora through GFAR.

Over time FARA’s comparative advantages relative to those of the SROs and other players will change and FARA will retain the flexibility to be able to adapt. FARA will purposefully seek to shed functions for which others acquire comparative advantage so that the Forum will focus on functions for which it is best placed.