Premise of progress – Building human and social capital for Africa’s agricultural success

By Katrin Glatzel

It is not uncommon that young people don’t want to follow in their parents’ footsteps, especially if it means a low income, food insecurity and back-breaking work.

For the agriculture sector in Africa, this is a big challenge. With over half of the population working in agriculture, the average African farmer is now between 50 and 60 years old. At the same time, the need for greater agricultural production is acute. In order to feed the projected population of 2050, global food production will need to increase by around 60%.

Africa is uniquely positioned to meet this challenge. An estimated 60% of the world’s undeveloped arable land is in Africa, there is great potential for increased irrigation and crop productivity, and a rapidly increasing population of young people are ready to transform their continent.

1However, to the majority of young people, the idea of working in agriculture is anything but exciting. More and more young Africans move into cities searching for better education and employment opportunities. Based on current trends, 59% of 20-24 year olds in sub-Saharan Africa will complete secondary education in 2030, compared to 42% in 2012. This translates into 137 million young people with secondary education and 12 million with tertiary education by 2030. Yet, only 2% of students are enrolled in agricultural programmes, compared to 26% who study humanities. [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Mass migration is no ‘crisis’: it’s the new normal as the climate changes, The Guardian

The Next Great GMO Debate, MIT technology review

Adapting to climate change in the mixed crop and livestock farming systems in sub-Saharan Africa, Nature, Climate Change

California Drought Is Made Worse by Global Warming, Scientists Say, The New York Times

Unhealthy Fixation, Slate

The littlest farmhands, Science

Foresight food security: From hunger and poverty to food system approach, EurekAlert! AAAS

Ethiopia: Eiar Releases Inclement Weather Compatible Crops, The Ethiopian Herald via AllAfrica

Spectroscopy analysis of soil to help farmers, African Farming

Study finds gaps in Africa-EU food secuirty R&D links, SciDevNet [Read more…]

Gene therapy for a changing climate

By Emily Alpert

Credit C. Schubert, CCAFS

Credit C. Schubert, CCAFS

The rains are too short. Or are they too long? The temperature seems to be hotter. Maybe the air is getting drier here and wetter there? For certain, the weather is becoming less and less predictable under climate change and African smallholder farmers are amongst the most vulnerable. Already, temperatures in Africa are predicted to rise faster than the global average causing significant losses to yields, herds, calories and nutrients.

Without a better understanding of the climate and how it is anticipated to change, smallholders risk losing their entire crop.  Without crop failure, simply poor harvests alone are enough to cause farmers and their families to suffer. Smallholders won’t have enough to eat, but they won’t have enough to sell either. Lower incomes will drive families further into poverty, worsen undernutrition and prompt coping strategies that lower resilience to shocks and stresses over time.

Supporting smallholder farmers to better adapt to climate change and build their resilience to a variety of risks – weather-related or not – can be done in a variety of ways. For example, better access to finance can enable farmers to invest more in their farms; better training can teach them how to sustainably maximise their production; and improved land management practices can improve soil fertility and nutrient management. Whilst all of these elements are crucial for supporting smallholders, they may not be sufficient to address the scale of the challenge. Genetic improvements to seed and livestock varieties that can tolerate extremes such as droughts, floods, and vegetation loss, however, may give them the right advantage. [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

We’ve Consumed More Than the Earth Can Produce This Year, National Geographic

Are You Cool Enough To Eat Bugs? A Startup Called Exo Says ‘Crickets Are The New Kale’, Forbes

Scotland to ban GM crop growing, BBC News

Kenya to lift ban on biotech foods, Daily Nation

A message to climate negotiators: Don’t forget farmers, SciDevNet

How cleaner cow burps could help fight climate change, The Washington Post

Farmers call milk price row a ‘morality issue’ and vow to continue protests, The Guardian

Tanzania to invest $380 mln over eight years in cash-starved farm sector, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Investing in Africas agriculture is the next best thing, CNBC Africa

2015 global temperatures are right in line with climate model predictions, The Guardian [Read more…]

Ecological Intensification: More food and a healthier environment.

By Alice Marks

An agroecosystem. Credit: S. Carrière, IRD

An agroecosystem. Credit: S. Carrière, IRD

It is no secret that natural resources such as water, nutrients, land and also biodiversity, are increasingly threatened by the changing climate and inefficient farming practices. Farmers often rely on these resources in order to produce food, so it is worrying to see them routinely diminished. Agriculture requires that natural ecosystems are modified and manipulated to better produce food, creating agroecosystems. However, the development of agroecosystems does not need to come at the cost of the environment. All people rely on natural resources, but these risk being damaged and depleted if current agricultural methods continue to be used. In order to meet the challenge of feeding 9 billion people by 2050, food systems must be re-imagined to incorporate more sustainable practices

Methods of producing food need to be more efficient and less environmentally costly. Ecological intensification aims to help agriculture become more sustainable by both using and protecting natural resources intensively but efficiently, in order that environmental impacts are minimised. [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

An end-to-end assessment of extreme weather impacts on food security, Nature

Just growing more food won’t help to feed the world, The Guardian

Robust research program is essential to meet critical global food security challenges, Agri Pulse

Feeding people on our stressed planet will require a “revolution”, Environmental Health News

The market v social welfare: finding ways to feed a growing population, The Guardian

Hotter than August, The Economist

How Far Does Obama’s Clean Power Plan Go in Slowing Climate Change?, Scientific America

Global Agri-Food Systems: Where We’ve Come from, and Where We Are Going, The Chicago Council

Quest for climate-proof farms, Nature

Bubble desalination latest effort to boost crop growth, SciDevNet [Read more…]

Sparks of prosperity

By Katrin Glatzel

During his visit to Kenya two weeks ago, President Obama told Kenyans that their country is at a crossroads and urged them to “choose the path to progress” by continuing to root out corruption and be more inclusive of women and girls. He emphasised the role of young people in particular, saying that “when it comes to the people of Kenya — particularly the youth — I believe there is no limit to what you can achieve.  A young, ambitious Kenyan today should not have to do what my grandfather did, and serve a foreign master. You don’t need to do what my father did, and leave your home in order to get a good education and access to opportunity. Because of Kenya’s progress, because of your potential, you can build your future right here, right now”.

pic1Africa’s youth hold the key to unlocking the continent’s success. With almost 200 million people aged between 15 and 24, Africa has the youngest population in the world and with estimates suggesting that Africa’s labour force will be 1 billion strong by 2040, it will be largest and youngest worldwide. However, 70% of young people live on less than US$2 per day and youth underemployment is high as Africa’s urban labour markets are unable to absorb the increasing young population. This seems like a dim prospect for Africa’s young women and men. However, there is reason for optimism: investment in rural and food sector entrepreneurship in Africa can achieve sustainable food and nutrition security for the continent and significantly contribute to Africa’s rural and urban growth. [Read more…]

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