One in three Africans is chronically hungry, according to the United Nations, despite $3-billion spent annually on food aid for the continent and $33-billion in food imports. Population growth and climate change are growing threats. But Africa can feed itself. And it can make the transition from hungry importer to self-sufficiency in a single generation.
This heartbreaking observation and inspiring declaration, all rolled into one, come from Kenyan-born Calestous Juma, author of the book The New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation in Africa. He is Professor of the Practice of International Development at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government; Director, Science, Technology, and Globalization Project; and Principal Investigator, Agricultural Innovation in Africa Project. The book was published by Oxford University Press, New York, in January 2011.
"An African agricultural revolution is within reach, provided the continent can focus on supporting small-scale farmers to help meet national and regional demand for food," Prof Juma says. His proposals include the modernisation of farms, with new machinery and storage and processing facilities, and the selective use of genetically modified crops. He calls for new roads, energy sources and irrigation projects.
Southern Sudan alone could feed all Africans if it was properly developed, is another bold suggestion from Professor Juma, who observes that Africa is the only continent with arable land readily available to expand agriculture. Prof Juma observes that “agriculture and economy for Africa are one and the same", asserting that to modernise African economies, one must start with the modernisation of agriculture.
The New Harvest is a product of the Agricultural Innovation in Africa Project (funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), whose researchers found that while globally production food has grown by 145% in the past 40 years, African food production has fallen by 10% since 1960. Only 4% of the continent’s crop land is irrigated. Fertilisers, pesticides and high-quality seeds are prohibitively expensive and in short supply. About 70% of Africans are involved in agriculture, but almost 250-million people, or a quarter of the continent’s population, are undernourished. The number has risen by 100-million since 1990.
For more details on the book, including free chapter downloads and comments on the work from various notable personalities, click on The New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation in Africa. For a brief on the mother project, click on Agricultural Innovation in Africa Project.
This story is adapted, with new material, from an article first published in the Mail & Guardian online.