irrigation equipment. Recent advances in science, including advances in disciplines not ordinarily associated with agriculture, are expanding the breadth and power of innovations to improve agriculture.

Although the principles that underpin methods of food production are as valid in SSA and SA as they are in other parts of the world, innovations developed for farming in temperate regions may not always be suitable for farmers in tropical regions, who grow a variety of different crops under different conditions. Those farmers need innovations that can help them to increase productivity and efficiency in the face of some of the world’s most challenging environmental stresses and competing demands for natural resources—conditions that push science and technology to their limits.


At the request of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the National Research Council’s Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources (BANR) organized a study to examine the innovations in science and technology that are most likely to help farmers in SSA and SA. The goal of the study was to find innovations with the potential to transform food production in the two regions.

Eleven experts in the agricultural sciences, including some specifically familiar with the agricultural constraints facing farmers in SSA and SA, were appointed to the study committee and tasked with identifying priorities for technologies that, if developed, might substantially boost agricultural production and favorably affect the lives of poor farmers in SSA and SA. The study focused on “emerging technologies,” which included existing applications that have not been widely used or adapted in SSA and SA, and innovations in the conceptual or nascent developmental stage that hold promise for improving agriculture. Appendix A of the report contains the formal statement of task for the study.

With input from scientists in SSA and SA, the study first explored critical needs for improving agriculture in the regions. Next, a “visioning” exercise and a multidisciplinary brainstorming session were held with scientists, engineers, economists, and other innovators to predict constraints that farmers in the regions would face in the future and to suggest conceptual solutions to address them. Finally, in a series of meetings with scientific experts, the committee learned about existing agricultural technologies and innovations at the frontiers of biotechnology, energy science, nanotechnology, engineering, remote sensing, and other disciplines in which novel advances potentially offer new opportunities and applications for agriculture. Scientists and other experts who contributed their insight and expertise to the study are listed in Appendixes C and D.

The committee’s report describes about 60 technological tools (listed at the conclusion of this summary) that could help farmers in SSA and SA

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