changes in policies and institutions that are identified as effective to meeting those goals.

Transformation of the agriculture sector will not occur overnight. It will take long-term research and experimentation by the public and private sectors in partnership with farmers. The two parallel approaches to improving sustainability proposed by the committee would ensure incremental improvement toward sustainability, while long-term systemic changes in agricultural systems are being pursued.


When considering the relevance of lessons learned in the United States to sub-Saharan Africa, it is important to recognize key differences between the two regions. African farmers produce a wide variety of crops using diverse farming systems across a range of agroecological zones. Most systems are rain-fed, and many soils are severely depleted of nutrients. External inputs are expensive. High transportation costs and lack of infrastructure often inhibit access to outside resources and markets. Specific management approaches need to be developed in this context. Nonetheless, the concepts of sustainability and many of the broad approaches presented in this report are relevant and concur with conclusions from some recent international reports. The committee concluded that:

  • An interdisciplinary systems approach is essential to address the improvement and sustainability of African agriculture that recognizes the social, economic, and policy contexts within which farming systems operate.

  • Research programs need to actively seek input and collaboration from farmers to ensure research being conducted and technologies tested are relevant to their needs.

  • Women, who play a pivotal role in African agriculture, need to be provided with educational and training opportunities and be involved in the development and implementation of research agendas.

  • Technologies are needed to address soil, water, and biotic constraints, but they have to be integrated with local ecological and socioeconomic processes. Use of locally available resources would have to be maximized and combined with judicious use of external inputs when necessary.

  • Promising technologies and approaches include soil organic matter management, reduced tillage, integrated fertility management, water harvesting, drip irrigation, stress-resistant crop varieties, improved animal breeds, integration of crops and livestock, and use of global information systems for landscape and regional analysis and planning.

  • Expanding market access will be essential to increase productivity and enhance livelihoods in rural Africa. Investing in rural infrastructure could improve access to local, regional, and international markets.

RECOMMENDATION: Agencies and charitable foundations that support research and development of sustainable agriculture in developing countries should ensure that funded programs emphasize a systems approach that reflects the need for adaptability of management strategies and technologies to dynamic local socioeconomic and biophysical conditions, and support efforts to increase market access.

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