Africa could feed itself in a generation!

“CBC has someone talking about Africa and agriculture,” a friend tells me. Immediately I tune in and get the last part of an interview with Harvard Professor Calestous Juma. Professor Juma is the lead author of a study recently released (and already in book form): The New Harvest – Agriculture Innovation in Africa. (http://www.amazon.ca/NewHarvestAgriculturalInnovationAfrica/)

     Professor Juma believes that Africa could turn from a hungry continent to one that can feed itself in one generation. The study outlines a path to that end.

A large healthy commercial beef herd in Zambia feeds on heavy pasture.

A large healthy commercial beef herd in Zambia feeds on heavy pasture.

     Africa has vast amounts of fertile arable land and plentiful labour, as Professor Juma says. He believes just southern Sudan, if properly developed, has the capacity to feed all of Africa.

We go to Zambia every year about end of January, when the grass is the greenest and longest. We’ve seen what is capable of being produced. We’ve seen it on big commercial farms run by whites and on small scale farms operated by black women. It’s possible for everyone. So what’s in the way? What has to change?

Peter Ngandu grows a fantastic crop of soybeans using a hoe and conservation farming methods.

Peter Ngandu grows a fantastic crop of soybeans using a hoe and conservation farming methods.

     The study appeals to African leaders to make agriculture a top priority in all of their decisions. Africa needs to increase its use of modern technologies. There needs to be continued expansion of basic infrastructure such as telecommunications, transportation, energy and irrigation. The study calls for improved technical education, especially for women.

     While global food production in the last 40 years has risen by 145 per cent, Africa’s food production has dropped by 10 per cent since 1960. Professor Juma says that is because of low investment in the agriculture sector. I would think that political issues also have much to do with the problem. The l960’s were a period of major upheavals when many African countries gained their independence from colonization.

     While Africa is trying to get a grip on its food production problems, countries like China, India and Brazil are investing heavily into the continent’s agriculture sector. They know its vast potential.

     Listening to the CBC interview, I am reminded again of the myriad of problems intertwined in this whole issue. Zambia has officially made agriculture a top priority, but the small farmer feels little or nothing of that. If there is no money to back the statements, what good do they do? Whose fault is it that there is no money? How do you get people to invest in African agriculture without the danger of exploitation of Africans? And the questions go on.

     Professor Juma speaks of the need for both a top down and a community orientated solution. Most people can’t afford to wait for the top down solution. A generation is too long. Too many children are going hungry in that time. I’m happy to be involved in a community orientated solution. But I sure hope African leaders listen to Professor Juma! (read one of many articles: www.peopleandplanet.net/?lid=29530&section=34&topic=23)

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