The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.
One of my favorite countries in the world is Ethiopia. I have had the pleasure of visiting four times traversing the north and south and find it gorgeous in so many regions. I cannot wait to go back one day to see all of its rapid changes.
Yesterday, civil servants, volunteers, and everyday people worked together in the Prime Minister’s Green Legacy effort to plant over 350 million diverse, indigenous trees in all regions across the country. The original goal was to plant 200 million trees. That was quickly exceeded by over 150 million more trees planted in 12 hours eclipsing India’s previous tree-planting record. Officials were charged with counting all planted seedlings throughout the country according to the BBC.
Having seen firsthand how Ethiopia has massively scaled their maternal healthcare across the country with frontline health workers it is no surprise this tree-planting effort was a record-setting success. The reforestation initiative was devised to tackle the increasing degradation and deforestation across Ethiopia. The overall goal is to plant two billion plants and is a countrywide effort to help reach Sustainable Development Goal 13 of taking urgent action against climate change.
When it comes to climate change Africa is in the eye of the storm. This is partly because of human factors – but the continent’s climate also makes it extremely vulnerable.
Africa is faced with a number of interlinked challenges. These include land degradation, poverty and climate change. These are referred to as “wicked problems” since they are complex and caused by a number of factors, many of which have global dimensions.
In the case of climate change, Africa is vulnerable because it is exposed to damaging climate risks including extreme droughts, flooding and storms.
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.
The United Nations, specifically the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and United Nations Millennium Campaign, and some of its key partners, the Oversees Development Institute (ODI) and World Wide Web Foundation, have come together to create MY World, a global survey to gauge the personal interests and issues that matter most to people around the world from New York to Paris; from Sioux Falls to Rio. This new survey housed on myworld2015.org asks global citizens to choose 6 of the top 16 issue areas that mean the most to them and that will impact their lives post 2015.
Why is this survey critical?
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are slated to expire in 2015 and the global development community is gathering data and information to help set the course and agenda for post 2015 global development. In fact, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, Liberian president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will meet first in Monrovia, Liberia at the end of this month where the data findings will be presented. The survey results will become a part of the panel’s final report which will be delivered to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in May 2013.