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African Countries Move to Bio-Farming to Alleviate Food Shortages

Growing enough food to alleviate shortages in African countries is not easy, but an agro-ecologist in Ethiopia thinks he has the answer: bio-farming. The technique uses animal waste products to produce energy and fertilizer, which grows feed, that the animals eat, producing meat as well as new waste. The African Union recently endorsed the concept, and countries such as Ethiopia, Mozambique, Mauritius and Kenya are already committed to big bio-farming projects. VOA's Pete Heinlein visited a model bio farm in Addis Ababa and has this report.

Giant kale, spectacular spinach, beautiful beef, medicinal plants, fabulous flowers, and all at prices most African families can afford. A dream? Well, it is a dream Ethiopian agro-ecologist Getachew Tikubet had a few years back. And after a lot of trial and error, he has an elaborate, holistic plan. It starts with cow dung.

"This Jersey breed produces about 11 kilograms of dung and about 10 liters of urine per day," Getachew said.

Getachew says that dung and urine can provide all the fertilizer and energy needs for a family of eight, if the family puts them in a container called a biogas digester. The cost is nominal.

"Within the digester, anaerobic fermentation takes place. As a result of the anaerobic fermentation, methane gas is produced, and this is one of the things that fascinate the farmers," he added. "They just can't believe this. Dung, urine being changed to this kind of flame."

But cooking gas is not the half of it. Getachew has demonstrated to 25,000 Ethiopian farmers how they can use the fertilizer from the biogas digester to produce enough food to feed themselves and have enough left over to take to market. He says they understand.

Farmers immediately see that all the components are right at their fingertips, most at no cost.

"We have people, we have livestock. We have plants. We have the soil. We have insects and we have various organisms and solar energy as a component," Getachew says.

By combining western technology with local traditions, Getachew has persuaded Ethiopia, the African Union, and several American universities and donors such as the World Bank that his idea works from the bottom up [by making farmers self-sufficient].

"So it starts from the soil. Some grow and the plants grow, some go to market. The produce -- some go back into the system, and then the animals take the feed, and the milk, meat again goes to the market. Their excreta goes back into the system. So by doing this, we complete the cycle," he adds.

The cycle begins again with a new generation. Getachew is planting seeds in farmers of the future at a school he operates at the bio farm. Children as young as five years-old learn not just lessons from books, but the concept of saving the land that they and their children will inherit.