I’m baf­fled that with ev­ery­thing we know, we still have this crazy il­lu­sion that some­how a green revo­lu­tion is a plau­si­ble for­mula for agri­cul­tural trans­for­ma­tion in Africa

The Star (Kenya) - - Voices - ALEX AWITI Ecol­o­gist

Ale­gion of or­gan­i­sa­tions and ex­perts ad­vise African farm­ers and gov­ern­ments on how to make agri­cul­ture more pro­duc­tive and prof­itable. But af­ter nearly six decades of pub­lic, pri­vate and donor in­vest­ments, African farms are the least pro­duc­tive and African farm­ers are among the poor­est peo­ple on the planet. Ac­cord­ing to Har­vard’s Calestous Juma, Africa im­ports nearly 83 per cent of its food. Nige­ria, Africa’s largest econ­omy, spends about $5 bil­lion (Sh506 bil­lion) on food im­ports an­nu­ally. In 2014, Africa spent over $35 bil­lion (Sh3.5 tril­lion) on im­port­ing food. More­over, Africa is also the largest re­cip­i­ent of food aid.

Africa is a hun­gry con­ti­nent. In this coun­try for in­stance, farm­ers, pro­duc­ers of food, can hardly af­ford two nu­tri­tious meals a day. Chil­dren who are born in ru­ral farm house­holds are of­ten hun­gry, mal­nour­ished and stunted. It is es­ti­mated that 40 per cent of all chil­dren in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa are stunted from mal­nu­tri­tion, which ham­pers phys­i­cal and cog­ni­tive de­vel­op­ment and deep­ens in­ter-gen­er­a­tional poverty.

Low farm pro­duc­tiv­ity and the hunger as­so­ci­ated with it have cat­a­strophic eco­nomic and so­cial con­se­quences. For ex­am­ple, it is es­ti­mated that un­der­nu­tri­tion causes 45 per cent of all child deaths in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa – 3.1 mil­lion deaths an­nu­ally. More­over, a study by the United Na­tions Eco­nomic Com­mis­sion and World Food Pro­gramme es­ti­mates that Uganda loses about 5.6 per cent of its GDP be­cause of mal­nu­tri­tion.

The story of Africa’s chronic hunger and un­der­per­form­ing agri­cul­tural sec­tor has ex­isted side by side with the Africa Ris­ing nar­ra­tive over the past two decades. It is a tale of two con­ti­nents; bustling cities with a surg­ing mid­dle class side by side with in­deli­ble hunger and de­bil­i­tat­ing mal­nu­tri­tion. Who re­ally cares?

There is no short­age of hon­est, gen­uine do-good­ers on the con­ti­nent. Out of pity and the kind­ness of their hearts they have grap­pled with Africa’s hunger crises for nearly a cen­tury. They come with the best ideas, so­lu­tions that have worked in their coun­tries and other con­ti­nents. Six decades af­ter the Green Revo­lu­tion trans­formed the Asian con­ti­nent African farm­ers still can­not pro­duce enough to food to feed their fam­i­lies.

In­ter­ven­tions by a mot­ley crowd of ex­perts and de­vel­op­ment agen­cies have left moun­tains of fail­ure but we have failed to get even a grain of wis­dom. In many cases we have re­peated the same old failed, idiotic in­ter­ven­tions and ex­pected dif­fer­ent re­sults.

Hon­estly, I am baf­fled that in the 21st cen­tury, with ev­ery­thing we know about bio­di­ver­sity, en­vi­ron­men­tal ser­vices and cli­mate change, we still have this crazy il­lu­sion that some­how a green revo­lu­tion is a plau­si­ble for­mula for agri­cul­tural trans­for­ma­tion in Africa.

To be fair, some things have worked and there are some bright spots. For ex­am­ple, why is the Kenya Tea De­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity so suc­cess­ful when the cof­fee and pyrethrum sec­tor col­lapsed? Why is a small dairy in peri-ur­ban Nairobi so suc­cess­ful? Why are the small farms in the rolling slopes of Kisii more pro­duc­tive than the sprawl­ing vast plains of Homa Bay?

Africa’s agri­cul­ture and food po­ten­tial is truly ex­cep­tional. Can we learn from the fail­ures of the past six decades?


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