Friday, December 03, 2010

How best to feed Africa, Part 1

A new book says that Africa should make agriculture at the center of every government policy. Calestous Juma says that by doing this Africa will be able to leave poverty behind. Juma says the amount of food grown in Africa can improve with investment into paved roads, irrigation and more training.

From the Chicago Tribune, writer Robyn Dixon interviewed Juma on the new book.

Juma's prescription, laid out in his new book, "The New Harvest, Agricultural Innovation in Africa," seems almost as optimistic as the Millennium Development Goals set down by world leaders in 2000, which call for halving hunger and extreme poverty worldwide by 2015. (At the current pace, most of the goals will not be met.)

Juma's book is being launched Thursday by Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete at a summit of East African leaders in Arusha, Tanzania, to discuss food insecurity. The recommendations of the book, which is published by Oxford University Press, were adopted this year by Africa's largest trading bloc, the 19-member Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa.

Juma identifies knowledge, infrastructure and technology as key to developing African agriculture.

At the heart of his book is a sense that African governments have underestimated the importance of farming and how much knowledge and technology it requires.

"We thought we would leave it to the peasants and they would feed themselves," Juma said. "Agriculture has been one of the lowest areas of priority for African countries until recently, when they realized you could not just rely on food aid and, secondly, we realized that the peasants weren't feeding themselves."

His book says an agricultural revolution would transform the economies of Africa and calls on governments to put agriculture at the center of all policy decisions. The only way to rapidly train the army of engineers and scientists needed to drive growth in agriculture, he contends, is to set up new technical academies outside the university system.

Juma's optimism that Africa's agricultural failures can be quickly turned around is based on the continent's vast untapped resources. Only 4% of cropland is irrigated, and most farmers are too poor to buy fertilizers, high quality seeds or machinery without a helping hand. But he says there's room for vast improvement if governments provide investment in infrastructure, technology and education.

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