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IAASTD: Sub-Saharan Africa summary for decision makers
Carol Markwei, Lindela Ndlovu, Elizabeth Robinson, Wahida Shah
International Assessment Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD)

Acknowledgements: The full set of documents from the IAASTD, including the five chapter Sub Saharan Africa chapters, can be accessed at:


In August 2002, the World Bank and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations initiated a global consultative process to determine whether an international assessment of agricultural knowledge, science and technology (AKST) was needed. This was stimulated by discussions at the World Bank with the private sector and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) on the state of scientific understanding of biotechnology and more specifically transgenics. During 2003, eleven consultations were held, overseen by an international multistakeholder steering committee, involving over 800 participants from all relevant stakeholder groups, e.g., governments, the private sector and civil society. Based on these consultations the steering committee recommended to an Intergovernmental Plenary meeting in Nairobi (September 2004) that an international assessment of the role of agricultural knowledge, science and technology (AKST) in reducing hunger and poverty, improving rural livelihoods and facilitating environmentally, socially and economically sustainable development was needed. The concept of an International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) was endorsed as a multi-thematic, multi-spatial, multi-temporal intergovernmental process with a multistakeholder Bureau cosponsored by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Global Environment Facility (GEF), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Bank and World Health Organization (WHO).

The IAASTD’s governance structure is a unique hybrid of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the nongovernmental Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA). The stakeholder composition of the Bureau was agreed at the Intergovernmental Plenary meeting in Nairobi; it is geographically balanced and multistakeholder with 30 government and 30 civil society representatives (NGOs, producer and consumer groups, private sector entities and international organizations) in order to ensure ownership of the process and findings by a range of stakeholders.

About 400 of the world’s experts were selected by the Bureau, following nominations by stakeholder groups, to prepare the IAASTD Report (comprised of a Global and 5 sub-Global assessments). These experts worked in their own capacity and did not represent any particular stakeholder group. Additional individuals, organizations and governments were involved in the peer review process.

The IAASTD development and sustainability goals were endorsed at the first Intergovernmental Plenary and are consistent with a subset of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): the reduction of hunger and poverty, the improvement of rural livelihoods and human health, and facilitating equitable, socially, environmentally and economically sustainable development. Realizing these goals requires acknowledging the multifunctionality of agriculture: the challenge is to simultaneously meet development and sustainability goals while increasing agricultural production.

Meeting these goals has to be placed in the context of a rapidly changing world of urbanization, growing inequities, human migration, globalization, changing dietary preferences, climate change, environmental degradation, a trend toward biofuels and an increasing population. These conditions are affecting local and global food security and putting pressure on productive capacity and ecosystems. Hence there are unprecedented challenges ahead in providing food within a global trading system where there are other competing uses of agricultural and other natural resources. AKST alone cannot solve these problems, which are caused by complex political and social dynamics; but it can make a major contribution to meeting development and sustainability goals. Never before has it been more important for the world to generate and use AKST.

Given the focus on hunger, poverty and livelihoods, the IAASTD pays special attention to the current situation, issues and potential opportunities to redirect the current AKST system to improve the situation for poor rural people, especially small-scale farmers, rural laborers and others with limited resources. It addresses issues critical to formulating policy and provides information for decision makers confronting conflicting views on contentious issues such as the environmental consequences of productivity increases, environmental and human health impacts of transgenic crops, the consequences of bioenergy development on the environment and on the long-term availability and price of food, and the implications of climate change on agricultural production. The Bureau agreed that the scope of the assessment needed to go beyond the narrow confines of S&T and should encompass other types of relevant knowledge (e.g., knowledge held by agricultural producers, consumers and end users) and that it should also assess the role of institutions, organizations, governance, markets and trade.

The IAASTD is a multidisciplinary and multistakeholder enterprise requiring the use and integration of information, tools and models from different knowledge paradigms including local and traditional knowledge. The IAASTD does not advocate specific policies or practices; it assesses the major issues facing AKST and points towards a range of AKST options for action that meet development and sustainability goals. It is policy relevant, but not policy prescriptive. It integrates scientific information on a range of topics that are critically interlinked, but often addressed independently, i.e., agriculture, poverty, hunger, human health, natural resources, environment, development and innovation. It will enable decision makers to bring a richer base of knowledge to bear on policy and management decisions on issues previously viewed in isolation. Knowledge gained from historical analysis (typically the past 50 years) and an analysis of some future development alternatives to 2050 form the basis for assessing options for action on science and technology, capacity development, institutions and policies, and investments.

The IAASTD is conducted according to an open, transparent, representative and legitimate process; is evidence-based; presents options rather than recommendations; assesses different local, regional and global perspectives; presents different views, acknowledging that there can be more than one interpretation of the same evidence based on different world views; and identifies the key scientific uncertainties and areas on which research could be focused to advance development and sustainability goals.

The IAASTD is composed of a Global assessment and five sub-Global assessments: Central and West Asia and North Africa - CWANA; East and South Asia and the Pacific - ESAP; Latin America and the Caribbean - LAC; North America and Europe - NAE; sub-Saharan Africa – SSA. It (i) assesses the generation, access, dissemination and use of public and private sector AKST in relation to the goals, using local, traditional and formal knowledge; (ii) analyzes existing and emerging technologies, practices, policies and institutions and their impact on the goals; (iii) provides information for decision makers in different civil society, private and public organizations on options for improving policies, practices, institutional and organizational arrangements to enable AKST to meet the goals; (iv) brings together a range of stakeholders (consumers, governments, international agencies and research organizations, NGOs, private sector, producers, the scientific community) involved in the agricultural sector and rural development to share their experiences, views, understanding and vision for the future; and (v) identifies options for future public and private investments in AKST. In addition, the IAASTD will enhance local and regional capacity to design, implement and utilize similar assessments.

In this assessment agriculture is used in the widest sense to include production of food, feed, fuel, fiber and other products and to include all sectors from production of inputs (e.g., seeds and fertilizer) to consumption of products. However, as in all assessments, some topics were covered less extensively than others (e.g., livestock, forestry, fisheries and agricultural engineering), largely due to the expertise of the selected authors. Originally the Bureau approved a chapter on plausible futures (a visioning exercise), but later there was agreement to delete this chapter in favor of a more simple set of model projections. Similarly the Bureau approved a chapter on capacity development, but this chapter was dropped and key messages integrated into other chapters.

The IAASTD draft Report was subjected to two rounds of peer review by governments, organizations and individuals. These drafts were placed on an open access web site and open to comments by anyone. The authors revised the drafts based on numerous peer review comments, with the assistance of review editors who were responsible for ensuring the comments were appropriately taken into account. One of the most difficult issues authors had to address was criticisms that the report was too negative. In a scientific review based on empirical evidence, this is always a difficult comment to handle, as criteria are needed in order to say whether something is negative or positive. Another difficulty was responding to the conflicting views expressed by reviewers. The difference in views was not surprising given the range of stakeholder interests and perspectives. Thus one of the key findings of the IAASTD is that there are diverse and conflicting interpretations of past and current events, which need to be acknowledged and respected.

The Global and sub-Global Summaries for Decision Makers and the Executive Summary of the Synthesis Report were approved at an Intergovernmental Plenary in Johannesburg, South Africa in April 2008. The Synthesis Report integrates the key findings from the Global and sub-Global assessments, and focuses on eight Bureau-approved topics: bioenergy; biotechnology; climate change; human health; natural resource management; traditional knowledge and community based innovation; trade and markets; and women in agriculture.

The IAASTD builds on and adds value to a number of recent assessments and reports that have provided valuable information relevant to the agricultural sector, but have not specifically focused on the future role of AKST, the institutional dimensions and the multifunctionality of agriculture. These include: FAO State of Food Insecurity in the World (yearly); InterAcademy Council Report: Realizing the Promise and Potential of African Agriculture (2004); UN Millennium Project Task Force on Hunger (2005); Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005); CGIAR Science Council Strategy and Priority Setting Exercise (2006); Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture: Guiding Policy Investments in Water, Food, Livelihoods and Environment (2007); Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Reports (2001 and 2007); UNEP Fourth Global Environmental Outlook (2007); World Bank World Development Report: Agriculture for Development (2007); IFPRI Global Hunger Indices (yearly); and World Bank Internal Report of Investments in SSA (2007).

Financial support was provided to the IAASTD by the cosponsoring agencies, the governments of Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland, US and UK, the European Commission, and CropLife International. In addition, many organizations have provided in-kind support. The authors and review editors have given freely of their time, largely without compensation.

The Global and sub-Global Summaries for Decision Makers and the Synthesis Report are written for a range of stakeholders, i.e., government policy makers, private sector, NGOs, producer and consumer groups, international organizations and the scientific community. There are no recommendations, only options for action. The options for action are not prioritized because different options are actionable by different stakeholders, each of whom have a different set of priorities and responsibilities and operate in different socio-economic-political circumstances.

All countries present at the final intergovernmental plenary session held in Johannesburg, South Africa in April 2008 welcome the work of the IAASTD and the uniqueness of this independent multistakeholder and multidisciplinary process, and the scale of the challenge of covering a broad range of complex issues. The Governments present recognize that the Global and sub-Global Reports are the conclusions of studies by a wide range of scientific authors, experts and development specialists and while presenting an overall consensus on the importance of agricultural knowledge, science and technology for development also provide a diversity of views on some issues.

All countries see these Reports as a valuable and important contribution to our understanding on agricultural knowledge, science and technology for development recognizing the need to further deepen our understanding of the challenges ahead. This Assessment is a constructive initiative and important contribution that all governments need to take forward to ensure that agricultural knowledge, science and technology fulfills its potential to meet the development and sustainability goals of the reduction of hunger and poverty, the improvement of rural livelihoods and human health, and facilitating equitable, socially, environmentally and economically sustainable development.

In accordance with the above statement, the following governments approve the sub-Saharan Africa Summary for Decision Makers:

Benin, Botswana, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Gambia, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia

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