Puzzle of transforming African agriculture

Saturday December 1 2018

Michael J. Ssali

Michael J. Ssali 

By Michael J. Ssali

The resilience of smallholder farmers in Africa against the current region’s agricultural challenges will require African led technologies and innovations.

We should be in charge of every effort to increase our agricultural productivity including seeking information on weather conditions and markets for our products.

Setting up factories in rural areas for our agricultural products’ value addition has long been considered a major solution to youth’s unemployment and their massive migration to urban centres and foreign countries to seek jobs.

Yet most rural smallholder farmers’ productivity is beset by new crop diseases, severe weather conditions, soil depletion, and shortage of land due to rapid population growth, among other challenges.

The application of pesticides has not helped to overcome some crop diseases. Yet not all farmers know how to apply the chemicals safely, which triggers off human health issues and also reduces farmers’ profits.

Many African countries have opened up agricultural science research stations and started university courses to train their people in modern agricultural technology like other universities in the USA, Brazil, India, South Africa etc.


African scientists are working on solutions to pests destroying crops like maize, cassava, potatoes, while others are trying to improve crop yields and nutrition.

However, much as the same governments appear supportive of science innovations in agriculture that have transformed the economies of other countries, they at the same time, exhibit extreme fear of the same innovations and are quite slow to accept the findings of their countries’ own scientists.

Last week, for example, the Citizen newspaper reported that Tanzania had banned all agricultural biotechnology research trials in the country and given orders to destroy all evidence of the research programme, bringing to an end a decade’s effort by Tanzanian scientists to advance in biotechnology.

In Uganda we have an entire ministry of Science and Technology and quite a number of universities and colleges are training agricultural scientists. Some positive results have been achieved but farmers continue to grapple with crop diseases and challenges that would have been addressed by the application of modern biotechnology.

— ssalimichaelj@gmail.com