Clearly, development is about people. All efforts geared towards realising the potential of human personality are, therefore, encapsulated in one word: Development. Not until knowledge producers/researchers begin to reflect upon what their intentions are, it might be difficult to achieve any meaningful human progress. The African Green Revolution initiative could prove to be a significant platform for this after all. Perhaps, we need to probe ourselves and ask what on earth has become of the sub-Saharan African smallholder farmer in spite of all the scientific breakthroughs [in agricultural production] that have been achieved in the past by both international and national research centres. Perhaps, we need to ask what has been happening to agricultural productivity in Africa for the past decades. Perhaps, we need to find out where we have missed the point in bringing about food security in sub-Saharan Africa despite all the relatively huge investments in agricultural research over the years.
Perhaps, we need to gauge the feelings of small farmers on how scientists and policy makers still go about doing development business in Africa. Perhaps, academics in agriculture and other cognate disciplines [in spite of their various research findings and publications] need to sit down and think of where they have failed humanity in this respect.
That said, I think we need to revisit the modality for Research- Extension-Farmer linkage. Ralph von Kaufmann, in a way, did allude to this all important aspect in his earlier contribution. To make farmers voice heard would entail strengthening the linkage system between research and grassroots farmers. It would entail a complete overhaul of the entire system. It would entail proper funding for extension to enable it reach all the nooks and crannies of farming communities. As earlier noticed by Kwesi Atta-Kra, farmer representation may not be the ideal after all. Experience has shown that representatives have not represented well enough in time past. Majority of them have continued to defend their own interests. What then is the solution?
First, give all farmers the privilege to give feedbacks on research endeavours at all levels. And give legitimacy to this, too. This can only be achieved where the extension agency [both governmental and non-governmental] provides the necessary innovation, goodwill and leadership for this goal. By and large, strengthening farmers’ voices and acknowledging same will, thus, require some degree of humility from the knowledge producer and decision maker.
Second, Universities and colleges would need some re-structuring in the knowledge production process and also in their teaching curricula. It all about democratising knowledge production by incorporating farmers’ views and ‘research’ into formal teaching and mainstream research. This may be a challenge. But some are already starting to reform particularly so in South Africa [where indigenous knowledge is now being emphasised in schools and colleges]. To advance agricultural production and productivity in Africa, farmers and their knowledge systems need to form part of the building blocks for research and teaching in colleges and Universities. Systematising this in teaching and research will, in a way, and automatically become part of the policy processes. This won’t happen immediately but it will surely enhance the entire process in the long-run. In all, not allowing farmers voice to be heard on our path to realising a sustainable African agriculture, nay Green Revolution, is like a frog orchestra without a lead singer!