Science - July 1, 2004

Reactions to Rabbinge’s plan

Following the presentation of the report compiled by Rudy Rabbinge and others on how to fight hunger in Africa, Wb asked Africa experts in Wageningen whether it is likely to be successful.

Professor Paul Richards, Chair of the Technology and Agrarian Development Group:
“The report makes a good case for the role of technology in African food security. It analyses many of the constraints clearly, and comes up with a coherent plan of work. But perhaps there is an element of contradiction in the confidence with which it proclaims solutions and strategies - e.g. the production ecological approach - and the commitment it makes (at one point) to participatory, bottom-up ways of proceeding. In the experience of the TAD group in Wageningen, consultation with researchers about what is needed comes up with one set of recommendations, and consultation with food-insecure farmers with another. A possible way to proceed is to emphasise the rights-based approach. Food security is a human right. Agro-technologists are duty holders, in regard to those rights. They have a duty not to impose their own solutions but first to study the manner in which the food insecure acquire the right to food. It is often by stressing crops and strategies that have, as yet, no scientific or technological support. Thinking in terms of farmers’ rights to technology might shift the agenda away from what makes most sense to scientists and more towards what makes most sense to farmers.”

Dr Ruerd Ruben, development economist:
“It is an initiative with wide support and it is good that there is consensus. It’s also good that Annan has given his support and that African political leaders are also in favour. But nevertheless, have you ever seen a report that has changed the world?”

Dr Clive West, Human Nutrition:
“I think that this is an excellent initiative. However, there is no reference to training in the report. I think that funds need to be found to support capacity building in Africa. In principle, I am against large-scale programmes aimed at training people from Africa (and other developing areas) at the MSc level outside Africa. I would prefer that we do everything that we can to get MSc training strengthened in Africa. I am also amused that this is an initiative of the United Nations System. This system has a poor track record in training. They like to organise courses themselves instead of passing the job over to African universities. Thus the universities miss out on getting experience in running courses, including financial responsibility. They also do not get funds that allow them to develop their infrastructure. When they do get involved in developing courses, they try to do everything themselves for say five years and then leave. It would be much better to involve another academic institution to assist, preferably in Africa itself, so once the UN agency has lost interest, the two academic institutions can look for funds elsewhere.” |JT