Business News of 2014-04-23

‘Research and Development in agric critical for Africa’

A member of the British House of Lords, Dr Paul Boateng, has called on African governments to take research and development (R&D) in the agricultural sector more seriously to enable the continent to develop more crop varieties.
Using Ghana as an example, he said heavy investments into cocoa research had enabled the country to develop the cocoa beans to become its major cash crop for many decades.
He said that example could be replicated across the continent while urging Ghana to use R&D to develop other crops to the standard of cocoa to improve its food security situation.
Dr Boateng made the call when he addressed a special reception attended by Lords from the British Upper House of Parliament, renowned scientists from across the globe, researchers, PhD students from Cambridge University, as well as awarding-winning journalists and fellows from Biosciences for Farming In Africa (B4FA) on April 9.
Ghana’s cocoa has been widely acclaimed to be of the best quality in the world because of the consistent research on the crop to ensure that the quality is not compromised.
Although Ghana is the second biggest exporter of the cash crop, it is most preferred by multinational companies that produce chocolate and other chocolate products. Ghana’s cocoa research institute continues to make strides in its research into the crop, a move Dr Boateng believes can be replicated in other parts of the continent.
Processing and packaging
The prominent House of Lords member said the sale of raw crops from the continent must end. “We need to process our cocoa and other crops and package them to be able to get better value for them”, he said in an interview with some B4FA Fellows shortly after delivering his address.
He said through processing, Ghana and the rest of the continent would be in a position to develop its industrial sector and provide jobs for the people. In Ghana, only a fraction of the cocoa produced is processed and as a result, cocoa receipts are badly affected.
For instance, revenues from cocoa slumped drastically to GH¢40 million in the 2012/2013 crop season from the region of GH¢153.9 million in the 2009/2010 season, primarily due to declining prices of the crop on the international market and low productivity.
In spite of this decline, the government had to sacrifice 62 per cent of its revenue from cocoa exports to maintain the producer price of cocoa, as farmers were not ready to peg their prices to the behaviour of the world market price.
This was because although prices dropped from US$3,392.97 in March 2011 to US$2,359.25 in March to 2012, the government had to pay farmers based on the former price.
But Dr Boateng believes that once crops from Africa are processed and well-packaged with an identifiable brand, Ghana and the continent will stand to gain and will not be affected by the price volatilities on the international market.
Investments in agriculture
He further urged African governments to devote a chunk of their budgets to the development of the agriculture sector to make it “the game changer for their economies.” He said the funds should be channelled into the research and development of new methods of farming to enable Africa to produce not only to feed itself but become a net exporter of food to the rest of the world.
Dr Boateng said bioscience application in agriculture was the way to go, and urged Africans not to turn their backs to the new technology in farming but embrace it in a manner that would help them transform the agricultural sector.
"Why Africa should be spending billions of foreign currencies to import food to feed its people when it can easily become the net exporter of food?” he quizzed. Against this background, Dr Boateng suggested that unless Africa embraced new technologies and biosciences in its agricultural sector early enough, it would lag behind.
Dr Boateng waded into the genetically modified foods debate and indicated that they were new technologies that could be adopted to help change the face of farming on the continent of Africa and the world.
To him, Africa has no reason to wait to be hit by massive food shortages before taking action on what can rather make the continent rich and bring back smiles on the faces of small to medium-scale farmers, for instance.