Agricultural research in Africa is generally very dependent on financial support from donor agencies and international lending organizations such as the World Bank. In May 1998 the Rockefeller Foundation requested ISNAR to analyze the needs and opportunities for greater investment in biotechnology research concerning African crops. In response, ISNAR carried out a survey which yielded information on fifty African research institutes in nine countries, and on a selected group of relevant international institutes and programs. The main findings and recommendations of ISNAR’s report to the Rockefeller Foundation have been summarized in this Briefing Paper, since they may well be of interest to other donor organizations, policymakers, and research directors responsible for agricultural research in Africa.
The main findings are that a wide range of biotechnology tools is available for application in crop improvement programs, especially those related to tissue culture and genetic markers. Genetic engineering is not widely applied, and is primarily in the experimental phase. Research capacities in the nine countries are severely limited, with some exceptions, and too often donor-dependent. Resources are spread over a wide range of crops, and emphasize the ""low tech"" applications of biotechnology. Recommendations therefore stress that donor support to agricultural biotechnology should focus on a limited number of priority crops, and involve the institutes with the capacity to undertake advanced research. Technical assistance on management aspects of biotechnology, such as instituting biosafety mechanisms, should be an integral component of any new initiative.