By Issa Sikiti da Silva, Dakar, Senegal
Many observers believe that Senegal’s problems of food insecurity and severe malnutrition are self-inflicted, as the drought-hit West African nation continues to rely on rain-fed agriculture while snubbing agricultural innovation.
The country has long ignored the micro-propagation invitro or plant cloning- a technology that consists of cloning (artificially multiplying) plants in a small space of time to boost agricultural production and increase food self-sufficiency.
The innovative practice, successfully adopted in North Africa and several developed countries, is seen by some analysts as a better and long-term response to the food problems facing Senegal, whose 6% of its population (800 000 people), including 120 000 children under five, are malnourished and are in dire need of food aid.
The Government of Canada, through its Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has this month pledged $20 million over three years (2012-2015) to support to food security and nutrition projects in Senegal.
“It’s the politicians’ fault. We wouldn’t have such a food crisis if we have travelled the agricultural innovation route a long time ago,” a source close to the Agence Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique Appliquée (ANRSA) told Biztechafrica.
Dakar-based ANRSA is the government-funded institution trying to develop the above-mentioned technology, but faces problems of shortage of funding, equipment and skills.
“It doesn’t matter how small the plant is, whether it can produce grains or not, it can be multiplied on a big scale, and the results will be amazing,” the source, who was not authorised to speak to the media, explained.
Small-scale farmers, the source said, can also be equipped with such skills and technology so that they can do their own things and help the country defeats the spectre of malnutrition, unemployment and high food prices.
It is also believed that this innovative practice can help save and conserve endangered plant species.
Agriculture represents 75% of Senegal’s workforce, and accounts for about 20% of its GDP. The country has only 5% of irrigated land and had seen its 2011-2012 agricultural season ends in failure as drought destroyed most of its best crops.
This has resulted to the increase of food prices and put a huge strain on the already struggling households.
The Senegalese government has identified food self-sufficiency as one of its top priorities, but it is widely criticised for lacking a clear sense of direction in the area of agricultural innovation, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) says.
IFPRI regrets that despite four different government agencies currently setting the country’s agricultural innovation agenda, they are often overlapping and even having conflicting mandates.
The World Bank has in May this year approved USD120 million to finance the second phase of the West African agricultural productivity program aiming to improve food production by spreading new agricultural technologies in Ghana and Senegal.
The Washington-based institution said the programme will finance technology exchange programs, align national priorities with regional ones to increase regional cooperation in food technology generation, and support a greater push for technology adoption and dissemination.