News / Africa

African Agricultural Innovations Boost Continental Food Production

International organization finds the world can learn a lot from resourceful African farmers

Darren Taylor

This is Part 1 of a 5-part series: Innovations in African Farming
Continue to Part:  1 / 2 / 3 /4 /5

 

When Danielle Nierenberg set off on a two-year, 25-country tour of sub-Saharan Africa in 2009, she couldn’t help but feel “daunted.” Her mission:  to uncover a “treasure trove” of agricultural success stories.

International agricultural researcher Danielle Nierenberg [center, in sunglasses] with farmers in Ghana. She spent two years traveling throughout Africa in search of the continent’s environmentally friendly successes in food production
International agricultural researcher Danielle Nierenberg [center, in sunglasses] with farmers in Ghana. She spent two years traveling throughout Africa in search of the continent’s environmentally friendly successes in food production

She realized she’d be traveling through a region where more people are chronically hungry – about 265 million of them – than in any other place on earth. And to many in the rest of the world, sub-Saharan African agriculture is synonymous with failure – from overgrazing to soil erosion to massive crop failures because of incorrect planting methods.

Nierenberg, an agricultural researcher, leads the Worldwatch Institute’s “Nourishing the Planet” project, an initiative aimed at easing hunger globally. The Institute, an international anti-poverty group based in Washington, DC, is dedicated to worldwide sustainable development.

African solutions

Nierenberg went to sub-Saharan Africa to find agricultural initiatives that would allow millions of people to feed themselves, without damaging the environment.

Nierenberg says the warmth and strength of African food producers touched her deeply
Nierenberg says the warmth and strength of African food producers touched her deeply

Initially, despite her enthusiasm, she expected to be “very depressed and not see a lot of hope” in the region’s agriculture. But, after visiting more than 300 projects in countries as diverse as Niger, Rwanda, Madagascar and Mozambique, she said she felt “warm and optimistic.”

Nierenberg told VOA in an interview in Johannesburg at the end of her journey, “There is so much self-reliance [in Africa] and the people we met with have so much hope for themselves and their communities and their countries. And I have come away with a whole different view of the African continent.”

At the same time she emphasized that she and her team of researchers had not closed their eyes to the “dark side” of Africa. “We saw a lot of bad stuff. We saw the same things that you see on the [TV] news every night – [starving] kids with bloated bellies. We saw lots of hungry people and we saw lots of people waiting in line to get food aid.”

The Worldwatch Institute visited successful farms, such as this lettuce farm in South Africa, to learn about the agricultural methods they’re using to produce food while simultaneously protecting the ecology
The Worldwatch Institute visited successful farms, such as this lettuce farm in South Africa, to learn about the agricultural methods they’re using to produce food while simultaneously protecting the ecology

But too often, she said, this is the only side of Africa people see. So she and her colleagues dedicated themselves to highlighting the “really grassroots African solutions that are helping to alleviate hunger and poverty and protect the environment.”

African innovations to feed cities

Nierenberg said the world must learn valuable lessons from African small-scale farmers, who are playing leading roles in urban agriculture, producing food to save millions of people from hunger in the continent’s cities.

In this regard, one of the African innovations her team found is the concept of “tire gardens.” People in various cities are using them to grow vegetables. They cut old tires in half, and fill them not with fertile soil, which is rare in urban areas, but with refuse. The trash provides stability for plant roots and nourishes the crops.

Nierenberg said the development of urban agriculture is of “critical importance” because half the human population now lives in cities. “In sub-Saharan Africa, 15 million people are moving to cities each year. By 2020, some 40 million Africans will depend entirely on food grown in cities to meet their food requirements,” she said.

Nierenberg warned that unless the world’s food system finds innovative ways to feed cities, food shortages and food price riots will increase in the near future.

Nierenberg says Africa’s urban farmers, such as this one in Nairobi’s Kibera slum, have a lot to teach the rest of the world about growing food in a city environment
Nierenberg says Africa’s urban farmers, such as this one in Nairobi’s Kibera slum, have a lot to teach the rest of the world about growing food in a city environment

“Making sure that urban farmers have access to the inputs that they need, and that they’re not impeded by policies and laws in cities that prevent them from growing food, has become vitally important – not only for Africa’s sake, but for the whole world,” she said.

Preventing food wastage

Nierenberg revealed that Africans have also developed innovations to preserve food and to prevent food wastage – both “crucial” issues in a world suffering frequent food shortages.

“Twenty to 50 percent of the [annual] global [food] harvest is wasted before it ever reaches people’s bellies and so, given all the attention that goes into improving [food] yields, the same sort of attention needs to be focused on preserving food,” she said.

According to the African Development Bank Group, more than a quarter of the food produced in sub-Saharan Africa every year – about 100 million tons – rots before it can be eaten because of poor harvest or storage techniques, severe weather, or disease and pests.

Nierenberg met with young people all over Africa, such as this Rwandan boy, who are increasingly becoming positively involved in food production
Nierenberg met with young people all over Africa, such as this Rwandan boy, who are increasingly becoming positively involved in food production

Nierenberg’s project highlights ways Africans are preventing this large-scale loss of food. In Zambia, for example, the National Institute for Scientific Research has developed low-cost driers to preserve fruit by dehydration.

In East Africa, many liters of milk go to waste because dairy farmers don’t have access to refrigeration and pasteurization facilities. So the East Africa Dairy Development project is helping farmers in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda to form cooperatives. This gives them access to “group-owned and -run refrigerated milk collection centers” and facilities where the milk is pasteurized. At market, the farmers get higher prices for the processed milk and consumers get healthier milk.

Ethiopian “farmer-priest” Kas Malede Abreha works the water pump he built … The simple contraption has changed his life …
Ethiopian “farmer-priest” Kas Malede Abreha works the water pump he built … The simple contraption has changed his life …

Young Africans becoming food producers

Nierenberg said it’s common throughout Africa for agriculture to be used as a “punishment, something that kids are forced to do when they’re bad at school, or when they don’t have the option of going to university.”

But her team saw projects on the continent that are “finding ways to make sure that youth are [positively] involved in agriculture and are excited about it and are making money off of it….”

In Uganda, for example, Project DISC [Developing Innovations for School Cultivation] has inspired 1,100 school children so far to grow crops to combat increasing food shortages.

The Worldwatch Institute said teachers and volunteers trained by DISC show the youngsters “how to grow local crop varieties using traditional and environmentally sound methods. Because of their experiences growing, tasting and cooking fruits and vegetables, the children not only begin to appreciate agriculture, they also learn about the importance of eating high-quality and fairly produced foods.”

In “leading by example” by making agriculture an “attractive option” for youth, said Nierenberg, Africans are demonstrating innovations that in the future will result in more people producing more food, and possibly “insulating” the globe against food shortages.

‘A true character…’

Reflecting on her “incredible quest,” Nierenberg recalled meeting some “unbelievable people” in sub-Saharan Africa. She specifically remembers Kes Malede Abreha, an Ethiopian farmer she said was a “true character.”

“He describes himself as a farmer-priest,” she said, smiling.

Abreha was farming in a very dry area of Ethiopia. Nierenberg explained, “His farm was struggling and he wasn’t able to make a lot of money because he couldn’t water his crops sufficiently. But with the assistance of an NGO he developed very low-tech treadle pumps that helped him save his farm.”

Nierenberg is appealing to as many world authorities as possible to pour money into Africa’s agricultural success stories …
Nierenberg is appealing to as many world authorities as possible to pour money into Africa’s agricultural success stories …

A treadle pump is a simple lever device, made out of metal or wood, pressed by the foot to drive a pump that lifts water from underground. “For a lot of people, the idea of these treadle pumps sounds completely primitive,” said Nierenberg.

So, she continued, when Abreha announced to his community that he was going to extract water from a desert, from a place where water had never been found before, and by means of “something that looked like it was from the stone age,” the farmer’s neighbors and even his own family scoffed.

“All of his neighbors thought he was crazy; his wife left him. She was like, ‘There’s no way you’re going to get water on this farm, and he was able to!” Nierenberg said, adding that by using such a rudimentary water-lifting technology, Abreha increased his farm’s productivity to such an extent that he’s been able to build a better house and send his children to school.

“And now he’s become an example of innovation and success in his community, teaching other farmers both water-lifting technologies for their own farms as well as erosion control techniques,” said Nierenberg.

… And to help Africans to market their unique produce worldwide
… And to help Africans to market their unique produce worldwide

Hopes for investment in African agriculture

Her project’s findings are contained in a recently published book called 2011 State of The World – Innovations that Nourish the Planet. Soon, Nierenberg and her colleagues will brief a variety of African policymakers on their conclusions, and will also speak to members of the United States Congress and the British Parliament.

But she “really” wants to reach the world’s funding and donor community, which she hopes will pour money into some of the “brilliant” African agricultural initiatives she’s helped expose.

“There’s a lot [of good] going on [in African agriculture]. It just needs more attention and more investment and, ultimately, more research to make sure that those innovations flourish,” Nierenberg said.

You May Like

US, Brazil's Climate-Change Plan: More Renewables, Less Deforestation

Officials say joint initiative on climate change will allow Brazil, United States to strengthen and accelerate cooperation on issues ranging from land use to clean energy More

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Reporting from Somali capital for past decade, Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal has been working at one of Mogadishu's leading radio stations covering parliament More

After Nearly a Century, Voodoo Opera Rises Again

Opera centers on character named Lolo, a Louisiana plantation worker and Voodoo priestess More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishui
X
Abdulaziz Billow
June 30, 2015 2:16 PM
Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impact

Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Syrian Refugees Return to Tal Abyad

Syrian refugees in Turkey confirm they left their hometown of Tal Abyad because of intense fighting and coalition airstrikes, not because Kurdish fighters were engaged in ethnic cleansing, as some Turkish officials charged. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer, in Tal Abyad, finds that civilians coming back to the town agree, as we hear in this report narrated by Roger Wilkison.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs