By Vanessa Akoth

Innovative technologies, public and private partnerships, product deployment and incentive driven enabling environment are key drivers that should be strengthened to build a sustainable agricultural transformation in Africa’s food systems.

These remarks were made by Dr. Emmanuel Okogbenin, Director of Programme Development and Commercialization at African Agricultural Technology and Foundation (AATF) during the Community Network for African Vector-Borne Plant Viruses (CONNECTED) virtual seminar.

“Sustainable agricultural transformation is key to offering system-driven solutions to myriad of challenges – from ending poverty and hunger to responding to climate change and sustaining our natural resources in Africa,” he observed.

Dr. Okogbenin noted that agricultural transformation process in Africa can be facilitated by ensuring growth of smallholder farmers through the use of eco-efficient optimal innovative technologies and stronger gender inclusivity.

In addition, he pointed out that women empowerment through active involvement in food production, increased income and decision-making can catalyze nutrition integration in African agricultural development programs to spur improved nutrition security on the continent.

“There is need to translate increased productivity at farm level into global trade for huge economic gains,” he stated, adding that efforts must transcend beyond just meeting domestic demands to having increased access to international markets to achieve poverty reduction. He further stated that reducing poverty wasn’t about poverty management as they were not synonymous, rather it is about strengthening business opportunities in agriculture for small holder farmers.

Dr. Okogbenin said agricultural transformation must be directed to address both agricultural and non-agricultural goals and aspirations including Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Africa Union Agenda 2063.

“Research support systems must be explored internationally to complement product development efforts in Africa to bolster strong research capacities by working through partnership and networks towards creating bigger critical mass and expanding synergies to drive transformation,” he said.

As Africa strives to transform its agriculture sector, Dr. Okogbenin urged African leaders and scientists to focus on home grown technologies to generate wider support, technology ownership and higher adoption success.

Citing rice hybrids as an example, he told the meeting that the rice hybrids were initially imported as seeds without African access to the technology.  However, through AATF’s intervention, the first set of rice hybrids have been developed in Africa which are being availed to African seed companies with freedom-to-operate.

Under the AATF initiative, eight indigenous rice hybrids have been released in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, giving farmers over ten tonnes per hectare under irrigation compared to four tonnes obtained by farmers with non-hybrid varieties.