Food shortages and higher prices are among the main issues being discussed this week at a UN meeting in Nairobi. The Food and Agriculture Organization is holding its 25th regional conference for Africa. UN and African experts will address food security, improving agriculture and better water management.


Among the groups watching developments this week is the African Biodiversity Network. Gathuru Mburu is the general coordinator for the group. From Nairobi, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about some of the main issues.

“I’m sure they are going to address a number of things. And a lot of these are things that many of the African countries, especially the leadership in Africa, may be wanting to embrace. And these include the issues of agrofuels (biofuels), the issue of genetic engineering. AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution) I know is going to come up very, very strongly,” he says.

Mburu says expects those at the meeting to promote chemical fertilizes and chemical sprays to boost agricultural production. “It (AGRA) is actually formulated on the framework of the green revolution of the 1970s that seemingly became very effective and successful in Asia, but failed in Africa. However, the information that is streaming out of these places, especially in Asia, indicates that even though there is a lot of food produced, these are monocultures. They are produced with heavy chemical inputs. This is actually having a ramification in the region because many people are now going back looking for biodiversity that they have lost 

Mburu says, however, it’s not the fertilizers causing the limited number of crops. “The green revolution actually focused on certain foods and especially the cereals, like rice. And we know that that region has been producing a lot of rice. So, a lot of original biodiversity was phased out. So these people do not have a variety of different food species that they can utilize.”

He says the UN meeting should focus on local knowledge and expertise to help ensure food security. “One thing that I would actually tell these people is that for a long time we have allowed the international experts to guide food production in the world. More so in Africa, where we have allowed every other solution to our own local problems to come from outside Africa. So, this time we would want to see this international gathering empowering local communities so that they do their own production of safe food using local biodiversity and local knowledge…. Our laws do not actually provide an opportunity for indigenous knowledge to be harnessed for local food production.”

Bio or agrofuel production has also been blamed for higher food prices and shortages. Mburu says, “Everywhere in the world, we are sort of trying to move toward the production of agrofuels. And we have heard reports, in fact, some of them from the UN bodies, indicating that the food production areas are shifting towards production of agrofuels. We must be extremely careful the way we promote agrofuel production, especially in Africa. Because if we stop producing food and embrace agrofuels, we are not going to assist Africa. In fact, we are going to push Africa deeper in crisis.”

The recent FAO summit in Rome pledged $6.5 billion in emergency food relief for those in need.