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

    Clinton, Trump and the 'Woman’s Card'

    Ask supporters of Democratic front-runner in US presidential campaign, and they’ll tell you Republican presidential candidate is playing a dangerous hand

    Russian Censorship Group Seeks Chinese Help to Better Control Internet

    At recent Safe Internet League forum in Moscow, speakers from both nations underscored desire for authorities to further limit and control information online

    Video Makeshift Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Free classes in Islamabad park serve a few of the country’s nearly 25 million out-of-school youths; NGO cites ‘education crisis’

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

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora