The Montpellier Panel, a group of experts from the fields of agriculture, sustainable development, trade, policy, and global development chaired by Gordon Conway from UK’s Imperial College, have a new report ‘Growth with Resilience: Opportunities in African Agriculture’. The report looks at how agriculture is connected to economic growth, food production, climate change and ecosystem services, but interestingly puts resilience at the centre of their approach. They argue that that while there are many challenges to agriculture in Africa, there are an under appreciated set of opportunities.
The figure below summarizes their report’s strategy.
Gordon Conway has written an article for SciDev.net has a about the report. He writes:
Developing resilient agriculture will require technologies and practices that build on agro-ecological knowledge and enable smallholder farmers to counter environmental degradation and climate change in ways that maintain sustainable agricultural growth.
Examples include various forms of mixed cropping that enable more efficient use and cycling of soil nutrients, conservation farming, microdosing of fertilisers and herbicides, and integrated pest management.
These are proven technologies that draw on ecological principles. Some build on traditional practices, with numerous examples working on a small scale. In Zambia, conservation farming, a system of minimum or no-till agriculture with crop rotations, has reduced water requirements by up to 30 per cent and used new drought-tolerant hybrids to produce up to five tons of maize per hectare — five times the average yield for Sub-Saharan Africa.
The imperative now is scaling up such systems to reach more farmers.
Another solution is to increase the use of modern plant and animal breeding methods, including biotechnology. These have been successful in providing resistance to various pests of maize, sorghum, cowpeas, groundnuts and cotton; to diseases of maize and bananas; and to livestock diseases.
These methods can help build resilience rapidly. We need to combine them with biotechnology-based improvements in yield through improved photosynthesis, nitrogen uptake, resistance to drought and other impacts of climate change.
Agro-ecology and modern breeding methods are not mutually exclusive. Building appropriate, improved crop varieties into ecological agricultural systems can boost both productivity and resilience.
Developing agriculture with resilience depends on science, technology and innovation; but there are no magic bullets. We need strong political leadership.
An excellent example is Ghana, where agricultural gross domestic product has risen by five per cent each year for the past decade and the millennium development goal of halving hunger by 2015 has already been achieved.This was largely due to the leadership of former president John Kufuor who gave agricultural development a high priority and created an enabling environment for the adoption of new technologies and other innovations.