Emerging Technologies to Benefit Farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia

National Research Council, 2008

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Increased agricultural productivity is a major stepping stone on the path out of poverty in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, but farmers there face tremendous challenges improving production. Poor soil, inefficient water use, and a lack of access to plant and animal breeding resources, nutritious animal feeds, 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.

At the request of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the National Research Council convened an expert committee to identify emerging innovations in science and technology that have the potential to improve agricultural productivity in the two regions. This report identifies sixty technologies that could significantly help farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia; eighteen are recommended for immediate development and further exploration.

Together with improvements in the structure of agricultural markets, scientific knowledge and technology can improve agricultural productivity and offer hope to poor communities in developing countries. If farmers can more reliably produce greater quantities of staple crops, they can ensure their own food supply. If they can sell the surplus of what they do not consume, they can improve their income while meeting the needs of a growing regional population. If they can produce a diversity of high-value products, they can capitalize on the demand for a greater variety of food by urban dwellers whose incomes are rising.

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 suggested in this report offer new approaches that can synergize with each other and with existing activities to transform agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.