Educating Africa’s Smallholder Farmers Can Spark Agricultural Revolution

7/31/13 - Africa has vast untapped potential to boost its agricultural output provided governments on the continent capitalise on their nations’ natural resource endowments by educating smallholder farmers on the advantages of adopting new agricultural technologies, says DuPont Pioneer.

With 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land, a youthful population, sizeable water reserves and burgeoning economic and political stability, Africa could emerge as a global breadbasket provided an enabling agricultural environment is fostered. DuPont Pioneer, one of the world’s leading agricultural businesses, estimates that Africa’s population will grow by one billion by 2050, highlighting the need to boost food security on the continent.

“Africa’s abundant resources are a great foundation on which to build a sustainable agricultural sector and if the correct policies are implemented there is every reason to believe that the future of food security on the continent is very bright,” DuPont Pioneer President Paul E. Schickler said in a panel discussion hosted by CNBC Africa in Johannesburg on Tuesday, 30 July.  “With vast tracts of arable land, excellent weather, a youthful population and some of the fastest growing economies in the world, all the stars are aligned for an African agricultural revolution.”

Invest in Science, Technology & People

African policymakers are currently focusing too much attention on attracting investment in industries such as mining, which typically results in transport infrastructure being designed to get mineral resources out of a country rather than the efficient transfer of agricultural produce within a country’s borders. Given that 60 million Africans are estimated to be suffering from chronic malnutrition and that as much as 40% of agricultural output goes to waste due to inadequate transport and storage, the need for investment in science, technology, education and human capital is imperative.

“We need to think of science and technology in a broad sense that encompasses everything from the use of enhanced seed varieties to the correct agronomic skills, access to finance and even something as simple as no-till farming techniques that help keep organic matter in the ground where it is needed,” said Schickler. “The other crucial thing is to adapt global technology to local needs. Although science provides universal answers, solutions must be local so as to account for variations in climate, soils, cultural traditions and distribution infrastructure.”

Limpopo Project

DuPont has committed R20 million over five years to assist smallholder farmer development in South Africa’s Limpopo Province, with R500 000 already invested since April this year. With 63% of smallholder farm land located in Limpopo, the province is a key node for the development of South Africa’s burgeoning pool of emerging farmers.

The Limpopo Department of Agriculture has lent its support to the initiative by signing a collaboration agreement with DuPont Pioneer in November last year, which will see smallholder maize famers in the province educated on how to maximize crop yields by using appropriate seed varieties. The project will be pilot tested for two years with the assistance of Madzivhandila College of Agriculture, with best practices from the pilot phase to be incorporated into the second phase.

Schickler says that while new technology is typically embraced in telecommunications, transport and health, it is often regarded with scepticism when applied to agriculture. The result is that many African nations find themselves perpetuating poor farming techniques and missing out on opportunities to improve household and national food security.

Lindie Stroebel, Manager for Economic Intelligence at Agribusiness Chamber, told the CNBC Africa panel that the failure to embrace technological advances in agriculture is precisely why African crop yields are significantly lower than those of advanced economies that have adopted new farming technologies. Although Africa has 86 million acres (or 35 million hectares) of land available for maize production, average grain yields on the continent are less than 2 tons per hectare, about one-third of what is achieved in other developing regions and only one-fifth of yields in developed countries.

Africa Technology Hub

DuPont Pioneer has committed to help remedy this by investing R62 million by 2017 in a new technology hub in the South African town of Delmas, Mpumalanga, which will be the focal point of a network of research facilities serving the entire continent. The company is also providing African farmers with Biofortified Sorghum, which contains greater concentrations of essential nutrients while also applying molecular breeding techniques to improve maize varieties already adapted to low nutrient African soils.

“One of the problems in Africa is that food production is traditionally organised at the village level, resulting in small-scale planning that is based on immediate needs,” Dr Norman Maiwashe, a senior researcher at the Agricultural Research Council, told the panel. “We need to change our thinking to focus on long-term requirements. We have to bring science into the equation.”

Schickler says that African leaders must promote collaboration between NGOs, the private sector, government institutions, academia as well as small-scale and commercial farmers in order to foster a more embracing culture towards new farming technologies. Only by working together will Africa be able capitalize on its inherent natural resource endowments and ensure long-term national and household food security.

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Pannar Seed is a dynamic South African seed group with research and development at its core.  It is one of the largest field crop seed breeders, producers and suppliers in Africa and is a respected member of the international seed industry.  PANNAR has been in the African seed business since its inception in Greytown, South Africa in 1958.  It has its own seed businesses in nine countries in Africa, including South Africa, and sells through established marketing networks into many other African countries.  It has its own research and commercial operations in Argentina and research and genetics licensing businesses servicing the United States and Europe.

DuPont Pioneer is the world's leading developer and supplier of advanced plant genetics, providing high-quality seeds to farmers in more than 90 countries.  Pioneer provides agronomic support and services to help increase farmer productivity and profitability and strives to develop sustainable agricultural systems for people everywhere.  Science with Service Delivering Success™.

DuPont (NYSE: DD) has been bringing world-class science and engineering to the global marketplace in the form of innovative products, materials, and services since 1802.  The company believes that by collaborating with customers, governments, NGOs, and thought leaders we can help find solutions to such global challenges as providing enough healthy food for people everywhere, decreasing dependence on fossil fuels, and protecting life and the environment.  For additional information about DuPont and its commitment to inclusive innovation, please visit

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