Agriculture in Africa currently stands at the crossroads of persistent food shortages compounded by climate change threats. Communities in several African countries including South Africa are battling food security, as many are not producing enough crops and grain to feed themselves, let alone to sell as surplus. These were some of the facts highlighted by Professor Jasper Rees, Group Executive: Research and Innovation Systems at the Agricultural Research Council (ARC).
Professor Rees and a host of other agricultural experts were discussing the various innovations the agricultural sector needs to employ to effect change. The discussion was held as part of the ongoing MUT Research and Innovation Week currently underway in Durban until 10 June. The experts also revealed that the effects of unemployment and the resulting increased crime rates can be halted by innovative agricultural solutions that include commercialising crop and livestock production.
Professor Rees said: “New technologies have the potential to transform agricultural production and food management systems, and they range from remote sensing systems in precision agriculture, to genome engineering technologies for plants and animals. Innovation in agriculture will indeed go a long way to boosting productivity, creating employment and bettering food security.” He said that agricultural research scientists need to establish stronger linkages and share ideas and expertise to better tackle challenges impeding the growth of Africa’s agricultural sector.
The session also revealed that the Kenya Climate Innovation Centre (KCIC), established a few years ago, has started to revitalise and boost home-grown green technologies throughout most of Africa – especially the East African region. Modern technologies including the internet and mobile phones have opened up a whole new world for farmers across the continent. Professor Rees challenged students and researchers to come up with innovative ways to reinvigorate the agricultural sector and make it a viable and income generating field.
Dr Felix Mkhize, head of the provincial agricultural department said that their new strategy is to develop farmers. “The new strategic focus is based on the premise that ‘agriculture is a business and agriculture is science;’ to achieve this we have developed a commodity approach to agricultural development – to ensure optimum use of resources.” He explained that farmers must be at the centre of the new knowledge transfer and there must be a great deal of commitment from farmers themselves which means that “farmers must take the risk and the collective responsibility.”