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Emerging Technologies to Benefit Farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia Executive Summary Increased agricultural productivity is a major stepping stone on the path out of poverty, but farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia face tremendous challenges improving production. Poor soil, inefficient water use, and a lack of access to plant breeding resources, high-quality seed, and fuel and electricity—combined with some of the most extreme environmental conditions on Earth—have made yields in crop and animal production far lower in these regions than world averages. This report identifies 60 emerging technologies with the potential to significantly improve agricultural productivity in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Of these, 18 technologies are selected as priorities for immediate development and deep exploration (Table ES-1). “Tier I” tools and technologies are those that should be given the highest priority for development into specific applications. Although these technologies largely already exist, they are new from the perspective of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia because applications specific to the needs of farmers in these regions have not been developed or widely used. “Tier II” technologies include ideas that are emerging from advances in different scientific fields. In concept, applications based on these technologies would have a great deal to offer farmers in the two regions. In general, technologies with the greatest potential impact on agricultural production in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are those that help to (1) manage the natural resource base supporting agriculture; (2) improve the genetic characteristics of crops and animals; (3) reduce biotic constraints (such as disease, pests, weeds) that decrease yields; and (4) provide affordable, renewable energy for farmers.
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Emerging Technologies to Benefit Farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia TABLE ES-1 Priority Technologies and Applications for Improving Agriculture Focus of Technology Tier I High Priority for Development Tier II High Priority for Additional Exploration Natural Resources Management Soil management techniques Integrated water management Climate and weather prediction Soil-related nanomaterials Manipulation of the rhizosphere Remote sensing of plant physiology Improving Genetics of Crops and Animals Annotated crop genomes Genome-based animal breeding Site-specific gene integration Spermatogonial stem cell transplantation Microbial genomics of the rumen Overcoming Biotic Constraints Plant-mediated gene silencing Biocontrol and biopesticides Disease-suppressive soils Animal vaccines Energy Production Solar energy technologies Photosynthetic microbe-based biofuels Energy storage technology Although these technologies offer many opportunities to address the challenges to agricultural production in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, a broader set of factors will influence the ability of a technology to have a positive impact on productivity: A system-wide approach: Agricultural production is a complex system; consequently, agricultural technologies are interdependent. For example, it is difficult to improve livestock or increase meat or milk production if the animals are chronically infected with pathogens and are fed low-quality, poorly digestible forages. Solving the problem of poor agricultural productivity requires a multifaceted approach. Local expertise and participation: Agricultural technologies developed in industrialized countries may not always work in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Crop breeding requires the evaluation of traits under local environmental conditions; weather prediction algorithms need data collected at the ground level; farmers need an opportunity to provide input and acquire information. These tasks require a committed, trained, local workforce—a
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Emerging Technologies to Benefit Farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia workforce of extension agents, scientists, veterinarians, and engineers that must be built with national efforts and international help. Agricultural innovations for the developing world do not need to be “low” technology: Technologies addressing specific needs in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia might never materialize if they do not fill a niche in the industrialized world. As a result, important opportunities, such as the development of advanced off-the-grid electrical power, might be missed. Farmers need more than “old” or “low” technology. Incentives and support for the development of specific applications could deliver benefits faster than waiting for market forces to propel technological development. Attention to the implications of climate change: Farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia already face severe environmental constraints. By all predictions, their livelihoods will be imperiled by the future consequences of global climate change, especially water scarcity. Comprehensive planning to alleviate the economic and ecological impacts of drought will be needed, as well as technologies that increase the availability of water and efficiency of water use. A whole suite of approaches—some technological and some not—must come together for farmers to realize the benefit of any innovation. Scientists from all backgrounds have an opportunity to become involved in bringing these and other technologies to fruition. The opportunities identified in this report offer new approaches that can be used by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other actors to help transform agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
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