2003 Annual Report
Science & Technology and Food Security in AfricaMessage from the Executive Director
ATPS has been at the forefront of reminding and agitating African national governments and her development partners for the recognition of the critical role of science and technology on all aspects of her development agenda. We have been prying-open strategic initiatives, such as the poverty reduction strategic papers and other such recovery and strategic plans to reveal the futility of such plans without adequate roles assigned to knowledge generation and use, and science and technology (S&T) more generally in meeting the objectives of these plans.
At ATPS we do not simply remind those in authority, we insist and sometimes lobby. The role of S&T in economic and social reconstruction of Africa should be self evident, but not so for some of our leaders and those who help in drafting these plans give it a peripheral role. We have now raised the pitch of our message and we can safely say that the message is beginning to hit home. Even though we still have a long way to go, there are incremental signs that African leaders may not be hard of hearing after all. Many of Africa's new leaders are paying increasing attention to S&T. But more importantly, they are beginning to pay attention to what African scientists say.
It is against the backdrop of sense of optimism and heightened awareness of the many options, which science and technology presents to us that we can discuss how science and technology can be deployed to tackle Africa's food insecurity.
In the dawn of the 21st Century, Africa is blaming Mother Nature, drought, and desertification, among other calamities for food insecurity. It is extremely distressful to see African leaders, year after year, on international television and radio pleading for food aid without internalizing the lessons of the previous cycles of food insecurity in their various countries. It is sad that in the age when S&T is allowing man to reach new frontiers; to explore other planets; to conquer most diseases; to use same telephone number any where in the world; and to produce new forms of life, Africans are dying because of drought. From the Horn of Africa, to southern Africa and parts of West Africa, the prediction is gloomy: without massive food aid, Africa's women and children will die of hunger. Yet, the real desert countries of this world, outside sub-Saharan Africa, are producing food and Africa is importing them, with only a limited number of our people able to afford imported food. Farmers in Europe and America are paid not to produce in order not to depress prices. Some of the excess production finds its way to Africa in form of food aid. India has revolutionized its Agriculture and is able to feed her billion people. There is no doubt that pockets of food insecurity exist all over the world. But there is no other continent where a significant proportion of its people suffers with frequent regularity massive nutritional and caloric deficiency as in Africa with huge implications for the HIV/AIDS pandemic, high child and infant mortality, maternal deprivation and stress, and low productivity.
ATPS is conscious of the fact that there are many other international institutions and knowledge networks that are addressing this issue. People have asked us why we are getting involved in an issue as big and complex as this when there are many other institutions with huge resources trying to deal with it. ATPS is fully aware of this but notes with concern that the locus of effort is often far removed from the locus of the problem. The universality of science and hence technology is often exaggerated. Knowledge is transferable but the investments in institutions including norms and practices, and capabilities required for effective transfer are often underestimated. The science of production of wheat, sorghum or millet in the Americas is quite different from that required in the Horn of Africa. Even where applicable knowledge is available, tough intellectual property rights regimes are limiting access. New institutions are now being created to deal with this obvious impediment to the deployment of science for public good. But more importantly, it has to be understood that science must have a context. That science and technology must be integrated in a people's way of life, their culture and should be used to solve their problems as they have defined them. That good science must first understand the people for which it is intended. Certain 'good science' might offend the sensibilities and moral mores of African people leading to its rejection or ineffective adoption. It is, therefore, imperative that science and technology should be used to improve the knowledge base of a society not to replace it; to improve its production processes not to discard them.
In short, as late Professor Claude Ake used to say, "People must be developed in the indigenous. It is not their way of life that is the impediment but our lack of understanding of this way and applying science and technology inappropriately that is the problem." As in many of these issues, ATPS' role is to raise this consciousness among scientists, African leaders and development partners and to 'force' the African perspectives into the international discourse on ways of combating food insecurity in Africa.
Intellectual dependence and commercialization of knowledge have often forced African governments to neglect the views of their own institutions and scientists, as if one part of the world was a locus of generation of knowledge and another of its use. Given the right environment, Africans have the capacity to "think ourselves out of our problems" . In the true spirit of the New Partnership for Africa's Economic Development (NEPAD), we would want to encourage new forms of partnerships, one that recognizes the centrality of African institutions in Africa's developmental discourse and accords preference to the use of African experts where ever they may be in tackling Africa's problems. This much was agreed by the African Ministers of science and technology in a declaration issued at the end of the first NEPAD ministerial conference on science and technology in Johannesburg, South Africa.
May God bless you all!
Dr. Osita Ogbu