Can Africa truly feed itself and the world?
If you ask former UN Secretary General and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Kofi Annan, the answer is a resounding yes. In fact, during his tenure as the head of the United Nations Annan says in the latest round of FutureFood 2050‘s interviews that he made food security in Africa one of his greatest priorities. “I realized early on that the eradication of hunger is not just an end in itself,” Annan mentioned in his interview. “It is a first step toward sustainable development and progress in general, for a hungry man is not a free man. He cannot focus on anything else but securing his next meal.”
The recently released report, Optimism for African Agriculture and Food Systems, said definitively that Africa can indeed feed itself and can produce enough surplus to feed the world. While that is fantastic news to look forward to by 2050, the year in which there will be an estimated nine billion mouths to feed, there are numerous variables such as the need for better irrigation and seed varieties, more smallholder farmer training and access to capital, increased private investment in agriculture, and acute attention paid to climate change and farming practices that need to be addressed first. Without partnerships and investments Africa will continue to undernourish itself and certainly won’t be able to trade crops to any othe continents.
If it has been said once, it’s been said a thousand times that the women of Africa will feed the continent. In fact, a one percent growth in farm production equates to an 11 percent reduction in poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, according to Jane Karuku, president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). Those are powerful statistics. Women grow up to 80 percent of all food in sub-Saharan Africa. It is imperative, then, that women are afforded the same access to loans, irrigation, better seeds, and micro credit in order to produce the optimal amount of food. And sub-Saharan countries need to invest more in the agriculture sector, not on paper, but in reality. Accountability is key here.
Africans are speaking up and expressing that the agriculture techniques that have been successful in the west aren’t necessarily adaptable to Africa. Ruth Oniang’o, the founder of Rural Outreach Africa, for example, believes that creating better food yields in Africa means understanding the African context. Oniang’o also believes that Africans can best teach other Africans about best farming practices and techniques because the farmers know they aren’t going anywhere.
“The farmers know us and they know of us. We make them our friends, and they know we are not going anywhere,” she says. “It’s not just a question of money. It’s working with you to make better use of what you have at the ground level, and just being able to appreciate and maintain dignity.”
Juma Gama, a farmer in northern Tanzania told me last year that, “Many people don’t like to join [farming collectives] because some NGOs came and took their money and went away.” Oniang’o sees the remedy to this problem being largelythrough grassroots efforts to work with smallholder farmers and investment with Africans. Jane Karuku believes that when agricultural change and leadership come from Africans it’s easier to be adapted across the continent.
Africans are also looking at a renewed Green Revolution to harvest more indigenous crops as a way to fight against climate change.
“We are trying to make sure that the diversity of these crops withstands the challenges we are seeing with weather or climate change, and also from a value system where people have always eaten them because of their nutrition,” said Karuku. “So we work on a whole range of crops.”
Some African agriculture leaders believe food science and technology are the key to unlocking malnutrition on the continent and increasing food yields. Harvard international development professor Calestous Juma believes in educating African leaders and countries about genetically modified crops, which Africans incidentally have yet to take to or accept. “It is no longer possible to rely on folk knowledge as the key guide for farming,” Juma said in his FutureFood 2050 interview.
You can read all of Future Food 2050’s interviews with leaders across the globe who are working to better feed the planet by 2050 at www.futurefood2050.com.