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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.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Rush Limbaugh on President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize

First, I am elated about the winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. In their citation, the Nobel committee said of Mr. Obama “Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future.”

However, true to his character of self deprecation, the 2009 Nobel laureate said “I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who have been honoured by this prize, men and women who’ve inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.”

There has been an intense out pouring of two kinds of reactions. Congratulating and ridiculing President Obama on winning the world’s highest honour. The Iranians think it is “hasty”. Nicholas Sarkozy thinks it marks “America’s return to the hearts of the world’s peoples”. RNC chairman Michael Steel said “The real question Americans are asking is, ‘What has President Obama actually accomplished?”

Rush Limbaugh and the Taliban think the President is a “worldwide” joke. Rush Limbaugh said that this award was more embarrassing than loosing than Chicago loosing the 2016 Olympic bid. I take Rush Limbaugh more seriously than Mr. Steel. Limbaugh is after all, the moral guide of the conservative movement. He is the moral conscience and protector-in-chief of the GOP. Maybe Limbaugh is the leader of the GOP. I am sure Michael Steel will disagree. But Steel no longer thinks Limbaugh’s rhetoric “incendiary and ugly”. Limbaugh rules RNC. It is Limbaugh’s ordained role to win America back for Americans. He speaks for the folks.

Limbaugh dropped out of South Missouri State University after only two semesters. According to his mother, “he flunked everything”. But thank God, college education does not matter in America. Limbaugh was once addicted to prescription painkillers. Not his fault. In 2006 Custom officials confiscated Viagra from Limbaugh’s luggage. But Limbaugh is King of radio. 14.25 million Americans listen to Rush Limbaugh on radio every week.

Rush Limbaugh, I think, is crossing the line in his spite and hatred of President Obama. He said in the early days of the Obama administration that “I hope Obama fails”. In my opinion, Limbaugh and his followers represent the ant-rationalist wing of the American public, the pseudo-intellectual wing of America that relishes “junk thought”, disdains logic and evidence. Limbaugh and is right wing crew believe that having a college degree is elitist, liberal and anti American.

As author and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman said, what America “must change, is people crossing the line between criticizing the president and tacitly encouraging the unthinkable and the unforgivable.”


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