Thursday, October 22, 2009

An African Green Revolution must happen in Smallholder Farms

Bill Gates is urging for a second Green Revolution.

This revolution will not be delivered by just high yielding varieties and fertilizers and irrigation. This is what brought about the first Green Revolution in Asia and Latin America. Jeff Sachs and Pedro Sanchez have previously suggested a “uniquely African Green Revolution”

A Green Revolution, second or uniquely African, needs a rethinking of farming systems, new institutions (especially financial, social and knowledge systems). And yes, genetically modified crops.

Hundreds of millions of Africans, and maybe a billion, in the not so distant future, depend upon diminishing and nutrient depleted farmlands to feed their families and earn an income. So as long smallholder farmers are food insecure and cash strapped the world will witness hunger, malnutrition and poverty of unprecedented proportions.

The challenge really is to produce sufficient food to feed a burgeoning population in nutrient poor, perched postage stamp size parcels of land that litter the African country side.

Yes we need crops and livestock that can thrive in drought; crops that can survive floods, crops that resist pests and diseases, livestock that can resist Rift Valley Fever, resist pests and diseases. Africa needs higher productivity on more impoverished soils and in more severe weather. Where would one look for crops and livestock that fit this bill?

Genetic modification can deliver drought tolerant, disease/pest resistant and high yielding crops and livestock. The award of the 2009 World Food Prize to Ethiopia’s Gebisa Ejeta is truly laudable. Ejeta is a breeder who has developed drought-resistant varieties of sorghum. Bill Gates recently gave $10.4 million to NEPAD and Michigan State University to develop an African Centre to help African countries develop appropriate regulatory systems for biotechnology. In addition, Gates has committed $120 million to initiatives ranging from broadcasting farming tips to smallholder farmers to producing stress-tolerant varieties of sweet potatoes.

But Africa must not just rely on Gates. African governments, universities and research organizations as well as the ubiquitous CGIAR must step up to the plate. These entities have gobbled trillions of dollars over the last four decades in the name of smallholder, resource poor farmers. Now is the time to show for this colossal global public investment.

For Sub Saharan Africa, the war against hunger, poverty and malnutrition will be won or lost on the small farm.

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