In new Science publication, Jayne champions improving agricultural productivity in sub-Saharan Africa

MSU Foundation Professor Thom Jayne and University of Florida Professor Pedro Sanchez make the case for increasing agricultural productivity in sub-Saharan Africa through increased investments in research, development, and extension.

Agricultural productivity must improve in sub-Saharan Africa is the title of a new publication in Science magazine by Michigan State University (MSU) Foundation Professor, and faculty member in the Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics (AFRE) Food Security Group (FSG), Thom Jayne.  Jayne co-authored the article with University of Florida Professor and World Food Prize Laureate Pedro Sanchez.  Through the article, Jayne and Sanchez make the case for improving agricultural productivity in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) with new investments in African-led research and development and extension programming.

Ron Hendrick, Dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at MSU says, “Throughout his career, Thom Jayne’s focus on applied research has embodied MSU’s commitment to improving the lives of people at home and around the world.  With this latest publication in Science, Thom’s work will reach the global audience of researchers, policymakers, and stakeholders it deserves.” 

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Professor Thom Jayne Speaking at the 2019 African Green Revolution Forum

FSG co-director David Tschirley adds “The work behind this article captures the extent to which Thom has embodied FSG’s focus on doing collaborative applied research for a more food secure world.  The fact that it appears in Science magazine is well-deserved recognition of the quality of Thom’s body of work throughout his career.”

Over the last 20 years SSA has experienced the most rapid agricultural production growth rate of any region of the world.  This rapid agricultural growth has been coupled with significant improvements in quality of life, including higher incomes, life expectancies, and educational attainment.  These trends reflect positive changes for SSA but Jayne and Sanchez caution that not all livelihood indicators are improving and that many challenges remain. Among the most important of these challenges, Jayne and Sanchez argue, is the need for more rapid agricultural productivity growth to sustain the region’s success. 

Jayne says, “SSA’s increase in production has been driven by the expansion of cultivated land, not by improvements to productivity.  Mounting land pressures and environmental damage caused by continued agricultural area expansion underscore the urgency for increasing the productivity of the region’s land already under cultivation.”

To enhance agricultural productivity, Jayne and Sanchez see a need for improved fertilizer use efficiency, the use of blending facilities, greater use of organic inputs and high-yielding seeds. For these changes to occur, the authors cite the need for greater investment by African governments in agricultural research and development, extension services that emphasize bi-directional learning between scientists and farmers, and public investments that encourage trade and private agribusiness investment in food systems.

To understand how investments in R&D&E could transform SSA agricultural productivity, Jayne and Sanchez point to the success of Ethiopia.  Since 2000, Ethiopia has substantially increased its funding for agricultural research and extension and as a result has seen the highest increase in productivity in all of SSA.

For Jayne, “Ethiopia’s successes provide a powerful example for other SSA countries:  The formula for achieving rapid agricultural productivity growth is not elusive, it is clear.  By committing greater investment to national and international agricultural R&D and focusing on improving the operational performance of these organizations, African governments will be taking one of the single most important steps to raise the productivity of existing agricultural land, improve the welfare of rural people, and sustain Africa’s evolving economic transformation.”

“Reflecting on the significance of this publication, Titus Awokuse, AFRE Chairperson and Professor says, “Seeing Thom Jayne’s work highlighted in one of academia’s premiere journals is a reflection not only of Thom’s scholarship and expertise, but also the broader impact and importance of his work.”

Support for this research comes from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM); the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Security Policy Research, Capacity and Influence; and the University of Florida’s Food Systems Institute.

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