Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Book Launch: 'The New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation in Africa'

On Monday 17th January africapractice attended the UK launch of Professor Jumas latest work The New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation in Africa. Calestous Juma is Professor of the Practice of International Development, and Director of the Science, Technology and Globalization Project at the Belfer Centre, Harvard University. The New Harvest is both ambitious and optimistic as Juma sets out the opportunities available for Africa to feed itself in a generation.

Addressing the audience, Professor Juma began by stressing the importance of agriculture in Africa, not just as a sector within African economies, but often as the key one. He also highlighted its interconnectivity with other policy areas and economic sectors, meaning that if current opportunities are harnessed successfully the potential impact will extend beyond the agricultural, but also that in moving the agricultural sector forward it is necessary to ensure the involvement of other sectors and actors. For example, by improving efficiency in farming poverty relief may be effected, given that the poorest are often farmers. However, improvements to agriculture can be made by making improvements in other areas, for example improving transport networks to key trade areas. Juma pointed to the example of President Bingu wa Mutharika of Malwai who, by taking on the role of Minister of Agriculture and Food Security as well as the Presidency, demonstrated the wide ranging importance for the Malawian socio-economy of its immediate agricultural development.

In acknowledging the strong role agriculture has to play in Africas development Professor Juma rejected the idea of a linear trajectory for economic development that claims countries transition from agricultural, to industrial, to service based. Both Juma and the panellists stressed that agriculture should not be viewed merely as a stepping stone to other development, but appreciated for the value it can bring in itself.

In the book itself Juma identifies and explores three key opportunities for the transformation of the agricultural sector in Africa going forward. Firstly, he argues that there are significant gains that can be made through regional cooperation. In particular Juma discussed the ways in which cooperation between various ministries and sectors could be beneficial both within and between countries. Secondly, he championed the opportunities that technological innovations and scientific advancements present for increasing efficiency, and protecting against risk. For instance, he cited the example of farmers using text messaging to pass on weather updates. Finally the professor stressed the importance of encouraging and facilitating entrepreneurs within the African agricultural sector who would be able to find new ways to drive the sector forward using in-depth local knowledge, not necessarily relying on imported wisdoms that are not always a good-fit.

This book is accessible, as well as timely, given recent advances, such as the development of drought and disease resistant crops and the spread of mobile technology. Its emphasis on the importance of structures and networks through which policy can and should be decided provides a context which should facilitate sound and appropriate decisions in African agriculture moving forward. Such an approach enables the book to have wide-ranging relevance in a continent characterized by its diversity, whilst the inclusion of plentiful case studies included provides practical insight at the policy level. The challenge ahead is significant if African countries are to make the most of the opportunities laid out by Professor Juma, but the outlook is positive if the interaction and coordination of individuals across both sectors and geographical boundaries can be managed.

Kathryn Brooks


  1. Sounds like the book contains good ideas. Just an observation. Farmers in Africa always resort to local knowledge after trying cut-and-paste foreign prescriptions, otherwise they domesticate what comes from elsewhere. BTW why was the book launched in London and not say Lagos, Nairobi or Timbuktu? Just curious.

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  3. Professor Juma has informed me that the book was first launched by EAC presidents on the 2nd of December. See here for details:
    I believe more launches in Africa are planned for later this year.