Archive for November 6th, 2012

A continent rich in food

Over time, the picture of naked malnourished children has been the poster picture for Africa, highlighting the hunger and famine consequent upon the continents many crises, wars and inadequate infrastructure. That thinking which places Africa as a hungry continent unable to feed her own people is fast giving way to an African that is self-sufficient in food production, able to feed itself and with enough to export to the rest of the world.

Renowned Harvard professor Calestous Juma opines that unlike the Asian Green Revolution that focused on increasing productivity, Africa’s agricultural revolution is focusing on using new technologies to solve local problems. Its humanistic touch is particularly evident in the attention it is paying to improving local crops.

For example, Nigeria is currently ranked as the world’s top cassava producer, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, ahead of Brazil and Thailand. This plant which was introduced into Africa from South America in the 1600s by the Portuguese, thrives in most parts of Nigeria and is a common feature in the daily meals of our people.

A recent Associated Press report on the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan, shows that there is extensive on-going research effort further buoyed by the political interests around the crop with the view to further increase the successes of the plant’s production.  The report reveals that “Its (IITA’s) laboratories contain varieties of cassava growing in test tubes. Giant freezers there hold seeds dating back more than three decades, though most scientists work with cuttings of the cassava, as seeds can have different genetic attributes.” The report further discussed the efforts by the institute’s chefs to bake using a combination of regular flour and 40 percent of cassava flour.  Weekly, the kitchen’s Cassava bread is supplied to the Aso Rock presidential villa a fact the President Goodluck Jonathan, a supporter of the Cassava bread initiative had made public in the past.

On a similar note, Investment and research firm FSDH Securities Limited, also recently in its latest weekly report captured in Thisday

Researchers at the IITA Ibadan

newspapers titled: “Urgent Need to increase agricultural productivity.” projected that with appropriate policies to aid commercial farming in Nigeria and develop agro-allied industries, the country would be able to help Africa in achieving food security. Nigeria currently accounts for about 16 per cent of the continent’s population, with its arable land constituting about 75 per cent of its total land area. Currently, agricultural sector of the Nigerian economy contributes about 40 per cent to its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employs, directly or indirectly, more than 70 per cent of the working population.

Perhaps nothing better captures the progress Africa is making towards food sufficiency than the rather dramatic turn of events in Acholi, Uganda where the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) recently announced it will begin buying food grown by small scale farmers. The development is dramatic and instructive because as recently as two years ago, many people in the region depended on the same WFP for food assistance in the worst years of military crises orchestrated by the Lord’s Resistance Army.

With the end of displacement in northern Uganda, WFP has changed its approach, moving from emergency assistance to initiatives that help address the underlying causes of hunger and poverty in the region. WFP has shut down its relief food warehouses in Acholi and is instead setting up modern grain warehouses, in which smallholder farmer groups and medium-scale traders can process and store their grain for sale to quality oriented buyers in the East African region. On top of the warehouse investments, WFP is training farmer groups in agri-business and in post-harvest management in order for members to increase their productivity and incomes.

According to the report, WFP has signed the first purchase contract in Acholi in which it will buy 154 metric tons of maize from grain traders in Gulu district. The programme it says aims to enable the smallholder groups and traders to sell food to commercial buyers as well as to WFP. So far this year, smallholder farmer groups and traders in northern Uganda have earned over US$ 200,000 trading through warehouses established by WFP.

The two examples above gives credence to a new World Bank report that reveals that Africa’s farmers can potentially grow enough food to feed the continent and avert future food crises. According to the global bank, the continent could also generate an extra $20 billion in yearly earnings if African leaders agree to dismantle trade barriers that blunt more regional dynamism.

Already, there are efforts to that effect especially through the regional economic bodies. The ECOWAS Commission for example has launched an “ambitious programme” to promote food self-sufficiency and reduce food import into the region by 40 percent over the next three years.

Furthermore, there have been various research successes on various crops that are worth celebrating.  A genetically modified (GM) banana with six times the normal level of vitamin A could be widely available in Uganda in five years’ time according to the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO). NARO with the support of the Ugandan government, the Bill & Melissa Gates Foundation and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has spent seven years working on the new cultivar in a bid to help solve the country’s nutritional problems. Uganda is the largest per capita consumer of bananas in the world with an average person eating between 750 grams and a kilogram every day.

Similarly, Maize farmers in Africa who have made perennial losses in the past from drought and pests are likely to start making profits, thanks to a research partnership that has produced new resistant maize varieties. Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) that was formed in 2008 to help address effects of drought and insect pest pressure in a cost effective way for African smallholder farmers has announced that it will bring to the market these new resistant maize varieties next year.

Interestingly, like every other industry in Africa today, Mobile technologies are also rapidly taking hold in the agricultural sector. According to a new report Monday from AllAfrica, farmers across Africa are beginning to use mobile phones to access up-to-date market information “to help them fetch premium prices. All over Africa, farmers, Tech developers, IT entrepreneurs, NGO and even Governments are getting involved in a variety of mobile phone based services aimed at boosting small-scale agriculture on the continent. Recently, in honour of World Food Day, O Africa a site dedicated to tracking Internet progress on the Continent put together a list of some of these initiatives showing an amazing display of creativity and innovation by Africans for Africa.

Coca-Cola celebrates this new Africa willing and capable to do what it takes to feed itself, adopting globally available technology and riding on the needed support from Governments. That Africa is steadily ceasing to be dependent on hand-outs from the West is a feat to be proud of and the potentials to begin to feed other peoples of the world evident in the projected outcomes of the many initiatives in Agriculture across the continent is another reason to believe in Africa.

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