News / Africa

Grassroots Innovation Helps Fight Hunger in Africa

Report highlights what is working and what can work in other countries

Urban farmers grow spinach, kale and other vegetables in simple soil-filled sacks in a slum of Nairobi, Kenya.
Urban farmers grow spinach, kale and other vegetables in simple soil-filled sacks in a slum of Nairobi, Kenya.

Multimedia

Sub-Saharan Africa harbors most of the world’s hungriest countries. But the report from the Worldwatch Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental group, says the continent is also home to a wealth of ideas that can help the rest of the world fight hunger and poverty.

Report co-author Danielle Nierenberg spent a year on a 25-nation tour of innovations in African farming and found them in some surprising places.

In Kibera, the largest urban slum in Nairobi, Kenya, and one of the largest on the continent, she found women farmers growing nutritious vegetables just outside their doorsteps using nothing more complicated than old sacks filled with soil.

It saves money. And what they don't eat, they sell, using the revenue to put their children through school.

They even helped feed Kibera through the turmoil and violence that followed Kenya's 2008 election dispute.

Women farmers in Kenya grow nutritious vegetables just outside their doorsteps. What they don't eat, they sell, using the profits to pay for their children's schooling.
Women farmers in Kenya grow nutritious vegetables just outside their doorsteps. What they don't eat, they sell, using the profits to pay for their children's schooling.

Cities feeding citizens

"It’s a slum," she says. "It’s depressing. It’s crowded. It’s dirty. It’s noisy. But these people are finding ways to make their lives better."

With half the world’s population now living in and around cities, experts are increasingly looking to these kinds of ideas in urban agriculture to feed malnourished city dwellers -- not just in Africa, but around the world.

And with nearly a billion people worldwide going to bed hungry, Nierenberg says that’s the point of the 237-page report: "I think there are a lot of lessons that we in the Western world can learn from Africa. And what they are doing is certainly applicable to other developing countries."

Transforming cassava into processed foods preserves the harvest and increases incomes.
Transforming cassava into processed foods preserves the harvest and increases incomes.

She says the report, entitled, "Innovations that Nourish the Planet," is intended as a roadmap for increasing agricultural investment to alleviate global hunger and poverty.

Saving the harvest

For example, in many developing countries, farmers lose 25 to 40 percent of their harvest to pests, spoilage or inappropriate handling before it can reach the market. That aggravates hunger and pushes up prices.

But in Nigeria, some farmers have cut losses in half with the help of village processing centers, set up to turn cassava into staple foods. As an added bonus, they earn more money from these processed products.

Nierenberg says the world’s hunger fighters should pay more attention to preserving the harvest.

"Given all that we invest in producing food in the first place," she says, "we need to devote the same amount of attention to making sure that it’s not wasted."

Work with what you have

"These innovations really focus on what you can do with what you have, with some additional inputs from the outside, of course," says Daniel Gustafson, head of the Washington, DC office of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. He says that's especially important for poor farmers, who are among the most at risk of hunger.

And Gustafson adds that with programs for developing-world farmers so often driven by outside interests, the focus on African farmers brings up another key point: "How important it is for researchers and donors and governments to pay attention to farmers and what they know and what they’re trying out."

Hopeful

Having grown up seeing images of hunger and conflict dominating news from the continent, Nierenberg says her year-long excursion was much different than she expected.

"I went to Africa with very little hope in my heart, and was so surprised by everything I saw," she says. "So I do see hope in all the innovations we saw on the ground."

However, she says she is less optimistic that farmers will get the support they need. Although several African countries have recently begun devoting significant portions of their national budgets to support agriculture, Nierenberg says greater commitments are needed to make these innovations that nourish the planet succeed.

You May Like

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers 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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More