Blog Post - Technology and Policy

Africa's new harvest

| Oct. 01, 2015

The second edition of The New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation has been released. The first edition of the book was published in 2011 as a memorandum for Africa leaders. Its core message was that African could feed itself in a generation. It was as a call to action to achieve this goal.

The book was released on the heels of a series of food price spikes and the Arab Spring uprising in North Africa. The Arab Spring provided clear evidence that the ability of a country to feed itself was linked to its national security. The events helped create a sense of urgency among African leaders to focus on agriculture as a foundation for the long-term economic transformation of the continent.

This edition serves four purposes. First, it acts as report card on what has been achieved since the release of the first edition. The main message from the lessons of the last five years is that countries can overcome their most intractable challenge if they can bring high-level political capital to bear on the search for solutions.

The first edition was launched in Arusha (Tanzania) by the five heads of the East African Community (Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda). The fact that the leaders were willing to launch a book they had not yet read testifies to their willingness to take risks with new ideas to address a persistent problem.

The second purpose is to underscore Africa’s latecomer advantages. Exponential growth in science, technology and engineering are expanding the range of technical knowledge that the continent can marshal for agricultural transformation. This edition highlights the importance of leapfrogging in agricultural biotechnology. This includes the use of new genetic technologies that do not involve moving genes across species.

The same leapfrogging strategies can be applied in other fields such as information and communications technologies, satellite technology, unmanned aerial vehicles, renewable energy, synthetic biology and polymer chemistry. Judicious use of technologies from these fields can help Africa adopt more ecologically sound agricultural practices.

The third purpose of this edition is to renew its optimistic message that Africa can feed itself in a generation. At its release this message appeared to some observers as wishful thinking. Interestingly, the international press is usually accused of focusing too much on negative news from Africa. In this case the press played a critical role not only in helping to shape the message but also in giving it global currency.

The sense of optimism and the rising number of champions of agricultural transformation among African heads of state played a key role in getting world leaders in business and philanthropy to increase their investments throughout the continent.

The final objective is to help sustain the momentum that was created by the first edition. Africa’s agricultural transformation will require long-term policy commitments. Much more needs to be done to scale up the various experiments across Africa into long-term strategies. The view that agriculture is just a stepping stone in linear stages of economic development no longer holds true. Future strategies for economic inclusion and sustainability demand a systems approach in which agriculture will remain important.

The future of Africa belongs to its youth. For this reason the second edition of the book structure so that it can easily serve as resource for research and teaching. We plan to engage universities across Africa so that we can support their research and teaching missions.

The book also provides a wide range of examples of entrepreneurship in the agricultural sector. The achievements reported in this book should help young Africans to appreciate the need to keep their eyes set on opportunities for agricultural improvement. As Winston Churchill so aptly put it: “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”


This post is excerpted from the foreword to the second edition of The New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation in Africa (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Juma, Calestous.Africa's new harvest.” Technology and Policy, October 1, 2015, http://www.belfercenter.org/publication/africas-new-harvest.