Joe DeVries


While the potential for public agricultural research institutions in Africa to play a role in an African Green Revolution has been frequently noted, the input these institutions have had on food supply and farmer productivity has often fallen short of its promise. Recently, however, through a series of innovative, new partnerships formed with the private sector, agricultural universities and national agricultural research institutes have begun to emerge from the shadows to play a more critical role in creating positive change for farmers.

In fact, Africa’s universities and agriculture research institutes have long been aware of their own capabilities, but perhaps remained too protective of their results in the interest of preserving the sanctity of ‘public goods’. Research publications in international journals, improved technologies for crop management and improved crop varieties all figure in the litany of achievements by researchers working with public universities and institutes. What has frequently been lacking from the equation is an effective means for sharing such technologies on a sustainable basis with large numbers of farmers in a way which would allow for meaningful feedback on needed improvements (an effective feedback loop). Farmers on the other hand, have often been deprived of access to these technologies, and indeed most remain unaware that such research is being carried out on their behalf. A number of aborted attempts by universities and public research institutes at commercializing their own results have only served to reveal the inappropriateness of these institutions at surviving long-term in an increasingly competitive commercial environment.

Recently, however, a growing number of public universities and research institutes in Africa have overcome previous misgivings about the role of the private sector in agriculture development and have formed genuine partnerships with private companies. These partnerships have been facilitated, in part by policy reforms which allow them. In part, they are also the result an emerging (and increasingly professional) generation of private, agricultural enterprises. Through such agreements, public goods remain public in ownership but are transformed into commercial, privately- managed products through their use by private enterprises. At a recent field day conducted at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, a series of new, high yielding maize varieties was on display, with the name of the hybrid and the name of the private seed company which entered into a licensing agreement to commercialize that hybrid prominently displayed. Several new soybean varieties developed at a university in Uganda have likewise begun to reach smallscale farmers in large quantities through licensing agreements with seed companies.
In the view of the author, this can only bode well for the public institutions involved the private, risk-taking agricultural enterprises, and farmers , who for too long have remained in the shadows of Africa’s liberalised economies. Several of the KARI hybrids have already been multiplied in the hundreds of metric tons and sold to farmers, whose yields have increased as a result. The case of soybean in Uganda is a similar, emerging, success story. It is high time Africa’s public research institutions and agricultural universities shed their remaining misgivings about ‘going commercial’


Full Text: PDF