Remembering our roots: new books and resources

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Photo by Danilo Rizzuti

Now going for close to four years, this blog began as a platform to allow us to continually update and review the content of One Billion Hungry: Can we feed the world? Between the publication of The Doubly Green Revolution and One Billion Hungry, the agricultural development and environmental landscape had changed so much that it was important to find a way to remain relevant in order to help to bring about the changes needed for a food secure world. As such we like to periodically bring you a selection of up-to-date, interesting and thought-provoking books and resources, and here are our picks for early 2016. If you know of any interesting or pertinent books or other materials we’d love to hear your suggestions.

Books

Otsuka, K. and Larson, D.F. (Eds.) 2016. In Pursuit of an African Green Revolution. Views from Rice and Maize Farmers’ Fields. Springer.

This book explores recent experiences in trying to bring about a Green Revolution in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), focussing on rice and maize. Authors find that an African Rice Revolution has already begun in many irrigated areas, using Asian-type modern varieties, chemical fertilizer, and improved management practices. The same technological package significantly increases the productivity and profitability of rice farming in rainfed areas as well. By strengthening extension capacity and providing management training to smallholders, African governments can boost productivity and accelerate the pace of Africa’s Rice Revolution. The story for maize is quite different, however, where most farmers use local varieties, apply little chemical fertilizer, and obtain very low yields, and thus the success of Africa’s Maize Revolution will require a different approach based on hybrid maize, chemical and organic fertilizers, and stall-fed cross-bred cows.

Moseley, W.G., Schnurr, M.A. and Bezner-Kerr, R. (Eds.) 2016. Africa’s Green Revolution: Critical Perspectives on New Agricultural Technologies and Systems. Routledge.

This book examines the dominant neoliberal agenda for agricultural development and hunger alleviation in Africa. Authors review the history of African agricultural and food security policy in the post-colonial period, across a range of geographical contexts, in order to contextualise the productionist approach embedded in the much heralded New Green Revolution for Africa. This strategy, supported by a range of international agencies, promotes the use of hybrid seeds, fertilisers, and pesticides to boost crop production. This approach is underpinned by a new and unprecedented level of public–private partnerships as donors actively work to promote the private sector and build links between African farmers, input suppliers, agro-dealers, agro-processors, and retailers. The chapters in this volume raise serious questions about its effectiveness as a strategy for increasing food production and alleviating poverty across the continent.

Brautigam, D. 2016. Will Africa Feed China? OUP USA

Over the past decade, China’s meteoric rise on the continent has raised a drumbeat of alarm. China has 9 percent of the world’s arable land, 6 percent of its water, and over 20 percent of its people. Africa’s savannahs and river basins host the planet’s largest expanses of underutilized land and water. Few topics are as controversial and emotionally charged as the belief that the Chinese government is aggressively buying up huge tracts of prime African land to grow food to ship back to China. In Will Africa Feed China?, Deborah Brautigam, one of the world’s leading experts on China and Africa, probes the myths and realities behind the media headlines. Her careful research challenges the conventional wisdom; as she shows, Chinese farming investments are in fact surprisingly limited, and land acquisitions modest. Defying expectations, China actually exports more food to Africa than it imports. But is this picture likely to change?

Lumumba-Kasongo, T. (Ed.) 2015. Land Reforms and Natural Resource Conflicts in Africa: New Development Paradigms in the Era of Global Liberalization. Routledge.

This book is a critical examination of the place and role of land in Africa, the role of land in political formation and national identification, and the land as an economic resource within both national economic development and liberal globalization. Colonial and post-colonial conflicts have been rooted in four related claims: the struggle over scarce resources, especially access to land resources; abundance of natural resources mismanaged or appropriated by both the states, local power systems and multinationals; weak or absent articulated land tenure policies, leading to speculation or hybrid policy framework; and the imperatives of the global liberalization based on the free market principles to regulate the land question and mineral appropriation issue. The actualization of these combined claims have led to conflicts among ethnic groups or between them and governments. This book is not only about conflicts, but also about local policy achievements that have been produced on the land question. It provides a critical understanding of the forces and claims related to land tenure systems, as part of the state policy and its system of governance. [Read more…]

Top 8 Quotes from “African Farmers in The Digital Age: How Digital Solutions Can Enable Rural Development”

“African Farmers in the Digital Age” is a special edition anthology, published in partnership with Foreign Affairs that brings together the views of twenty leading thinkers on all aspects of food systems, smallholder farming, and the transformative opportunity presented by digital technology. The authors of the essays in this collection paint a picture of what a thriving African food system can accomplish and lay out some concrete steps for building that system. According to the editor, Gideon Rose, “From mobile phones to big data, nutrition to climate change, the collection covers it all, with authors who have something powerful to say and the authority to be heard.” Here are some of the most insightful and salient quotes to give you a taste of the wisdom the anthology has to offer:

  1. “The combination of digital technology and human creativity in deploying it will revolutionize life for Africa’s farmers by overcoming isolation, speeding up change, and taking success to scale.” — Kofi Annan, Sir Gordon Conway and Sam Dryden

Access to digital technology can make the distance between a remote farmer and the market even shorter than a straight line. Whereas many smallholders live several hours by foot from most markets, mobile platforms can share market price information or connect farmers to buyers in an instant.

  1. “It is time to change the way we think. Farmers are not the cause of Africa’s poverty; they are a potential solution. They are key to creating the future envisioned by the SDGs.” — Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General

Check out this blog “Agriculture in Every SDG” to find out how agriculture is a central element for achieving each and every one of the recently adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals.  You might also want to have a look at the report “No Ordinary Matter” – the Montpellier Panel shows several ways that farmers can help to improve their soil quality and even sequester carbon!

soil carbon sequestration

  1. “If Africa’s evolving food system leaves its smallholder farmers behind, the continent will not reach its immense potential.” — Sir Gordon Conway and Sam Dryden

[Read more…]

Agricultural biotechnology and development: unintended consequences and unheard voices

 

Date palm tissue culture laboratory – Picture from FAO

GM crops have once again come under the spotlight with the recent news that Burkina Faso will no longer be growing Bt cotton (a genetically modified cotton variety, which produces a pesticide to counter the insect pest bollworm). Originally an early adopter of the technology, Burkina Faso became one of the first African countries to develop and release, with Monsanto, crosses of local and Bt cotton crops in 2008. As one of Africa’s largest cotton producers, their adoption of GM technology was ground-breaking. And, at least for some time, successful, increasing cotton production, yields and profits while reducing the number of pesticide sprays needed. With some 140,000 smallholders cultivating Bt cotton, it was also seen to de driving rural development, the average Bt cotton farming family reaping 50% more profits than families growing conventional cotton.

So why the reversal? The lint quality of Bt cotton varieties is poor and, as such, results in economic losses for the Burkinabè cotton companies that market it. Since they provide all seeds and inputs to cotton farmers, they have the power to phase out Bt cotton growing in the industry, which will take place over the next two years. In this case while the technology was boosting production and reducing pesticide use, an unintended impact on lint quality has become too big a hurdle for cotton companies to overcome. Now questions are being asked as to whether the same is likely to happen in other locations and situations, perhaps as a side effect of a “narrow, trait specific approach to addressing agricultural development”.

Despite this news from Burkina Faso, the argument in support of GM crops has somewhat intensified, with a recent article from Tim Benton, Professor of Population Ecology, University of Leeds reasserting that GM crops are one of a myriad of technologies and practices that we will need to feed the world. Since growth in yields are no longer increasing fast enough to meet projected food demand, we will need to expand crop land by an estimated 42% by 2050. This has broader consequences for biodiversity and ecosystem services as well as for greenhouse gas emissions, of which those associated with farming and food are currently set to push us past the 1.5℃ temperature-rise target set in Paris in 2015.

As Professor Benton explains, to avoid food shortages or the broader impacts of agricultural expansion we must either reduce demand for food or increase supply. The latter is about employing more efficient forms of agriculture, better land management but also technology to raise yields. How much of this technology will be comprised of biotechnology or genetic modification is unknown.

Some would like to see this be zero – for genetic modification to have no role in shaping future food supply. But could this opinion and the campaigning of anti-GM groups be harmful to food security? The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), in their new report, estimates that “the current restrictive climate for agricultural biotech innovations could cost low- and lower- middle-income nations up to $1.5 trillion in foregone economic benefits through 2050”. They also calculate that due to regulations and export limits that prevent widespread adoption of biotechnology, the lack of access to biotech innovations in farming has cost African agricultural economies at least $2.5 billion between 2008 and 2013. [Read more…]

Six fascinating talks exploring digital technology, agriculture and social change

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Photo credit: Bonney et al., 2014

The digital transformation of agriculture and other sectors has been occurring for a while now but there is much potential still to be discovered. These video resources not only discuss new ways digital technology can be harnessed but the challenges we face in utilising Information and Communications Technology for broader social change.

 

  1. Food Tank Webinar Series: Digital Agriculture with David Bergvinson

Danielle Nierenberg, co-founder of Food Tank, talks to Dr. Bergvinson on creating equitable opportunities for smallholder farmers to realize their full potential by utilising digital technology (mobile, cloud computing, social media, and big data analytics) along the agriculture value chain.

  1. TEDx: How can Digital Agriculture Feed Nine Billion People

Jim Ethington, technologist and entrepreneur with 15 years of experience building data analytics and machine learning products, discusses how the use of big data can help solve world hunger problems. For the last 6 years, Jim has been focused on the problem of how we can apply data science to farming. As the VP of Product at The Climate Corporation, he leads product design and development for a suite of products that provide insights and recommendations to farmers that help them to grow crops more efficiently and effectively.

  1. TEDx: Why digital transformation has little to do with technology!

Tobias Burkhardt, founder of the SHIFTSCHOOL for digital transformation, talks about our fears over an increasingly digital future. Exponential computing power and intelligent algorithms drive human productivity into another dimension and new technologies disrupt long established business models before lunch. He explores why only a small digital elite sees the potential while the majority of people are either afraid, ignorant or overconfident when it comes to a digital future. He explains that the answer is deeply routed in our middle class intellectual way of thinking of how to educate our children and how to live a successful life. It is not the technology but our mindsets that threaten our future wellbeing. [Read more…]

Four ways digital technology is transforming farming in Africa

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Photo by phanlop88

Digital technology is likely to continue to be a major driver of development and industry in Africa. The capabilities of local entrepreneurs, start-ups and businesses to provide services such as technical assistance and finance are growing significantly due to greater access to mobile and internet technology. As such digital solutions are likely to make a huge contribution to addressing local concerns, connecting people in remote areas and to reaching greater numbers of people than more traditional development initiatives. Such technologies are already transforming the way in which smallholder farmers work and interact. Here we discuss five ways in which digital technology can play a part in transforming agriculture in Africa.

  • Extension services

Accessing information on farming practices, crop diseases, pest control and land management can be made easier for rural farmers through mobile technology. At present there is a large gap between extension services provided and farmers being reached. In Kenya, for example, over 5 million smallholder farmers rely on just 5,500 agricultural extension workers so many are not getting the advice and information they need. Provision of phone-based agricultural information, advice and support to smallholder farmers can bridge this gap by utilising Africa’s exiting mobile network (currently the second biggest mobile market in the world). The form of the service can differ between organisations, some relying on coordinating agents within local communities to provide advice via their phone, some being purely an information service providing farmers with text messages containing advice relating to farming activities occurring at that time. Esoko, which provides a variety of agriculturally-related apps, has created several platforms for providing technical assistance, including personalised alerts with market, weather and agronomic information; knowledge-sharing to deliver extension advice to extension agents though audio, video, instruction manuals and information libraries; and bulk messaging to send data on best practice, campaigns and new products to all farmers. [Read more…]

What urbanisation means for rural areas in Africa

By Katrin Glatzel

Alvise Forcellini 2006 urbanisation blog

Credit: Alvise Forcellini, 2006

“How to feed our cities? Agriculture and rural areas in an era of urbanisation” – that was the theme of the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture, or for short, the GFFA, hosted in Berlin in mid-January. With Habitat III taking place in October in Quito, Ecuador, urbanisation features on top of the agenda of many meetings and conferences in 2016 including the Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ annual flagship report and the Committee on World Food Security (CFS). These forums are important as they draw attention to what urbanisation will mean for rural areas, the agriculture sector and those millions of smallholder farmers, upon which urban areas rely for their food supply. This is particularly important in a developing country context.

Urban and rural transformation

According to UN figures, in 1950 only about a third of the world’s population lived in cities, but rapid population growth has led to increased urbanisation, which has seen this figure rise to 54% in 2014. As this trend is set to continue, by 2050 over two-thirds of the global population will live in urban and peri-urban areas. Take for example Nigeria. Under current trends, by 2050, at 397 million, Nigeria’s population would be larger than Central Africa’s population in its entirety. Lagos’ population of 17.9 million is set to double by mid-century. This has a significant impact for the development of rural areas and our food systems. In order to support growing urban areas, to improve rural livelihoods, reduce poverty and to lower Africa’s food import bills, local agricultural sectors in the rural and peri-urban areas will need to adapt to an increased demand for food and changing diets. Pressure on natural resources, such as water, and climate change make the sustainable production of nutritious and affordable food ever more challenging. [Read more…]

Foresight Africa 2016: Africa’s priorities for the year ahead

foresightafrica_2016promo_16x9In a recent post we discussed some of the priorities for global development research. The Foresight Africa report, by the Brookings Institution‘s Africa Growth Initiative, has been assessing and laying out Africa’s top priorities for the year ahead since 2011. The Foresight Africa project is a series of reports, commentaries and events that aim to help policymakers and Africa watchers stay ahead of the trends and developments impacting the continent. The new Foresight Africa report, is a collection of issue briefs, viewpoints, and infographics on the major issues for Africa in 2016.

In 2016, African countries will have to react to many changes and challenges coming from outside the continent such as shifting dynamics in the global economy; potential adverse effects of China’s and other emerging economies’ economic slowdown; and decreasing commodity prices, all of which will require mitigation and policy reform. Within its borders, Africa also faces many challenges, for example in trying to maintain its trade competitiveness, tackle youth unemployment, deal with rapid urbanisation, security threats and reduce barriers to human development. The Foresight Africa report believes that “if managed prudently with timely action from African policymakers in 2016, the continent could equally recover from external and internal shocks, accelerate regional growth, and further expand the benefits of growth to the more than one billion people living throughout Africa”.

The study identifies six priorities for 2016 that will help continue Africa’s current economic growth:

  1. Managing economic shocks (including the economic slowdown in China, declines in commodity prices, the US Federal Reserve interest rate hikes)
  2. Sustaining domestic growth: revitalize the region’s industrial development and focus on job creation
  3. Supporting human development
  4. Capitalizing on urbanization. As the second fastest urbanizing region in the world, Africa needs strong infrastructure and planning policies
  5. Maintaining governance gains: the regional governance puzzle and the complex institutional changes
  6. Expanding African trade: creating a comparative advantage and strengthening regional partnerships

Critically the report not only lays out priorities for African governments and policy makers, it provides different viewpoints on the best way to develop policy to cope with oncoming shocks and stresses and further development. For example, Njuguna S. Ndung’u, Associate Professor of Economics, at the University of Nairobi, discusses how African economies should build resilience to manage external shocks in 2016. Instead of cutting long-term development budgets in times of crisis, buffers at four levels need to be created ahead of coming shocks: foreign exchange reserves, strategic food reserves, oil reserves for oil-importing countries, and, in countries dependent on commodity prices, a fund for smoothing out commodity prices during times of extreme variability.

The report also discusses the Sustainable Development Goals, noting the common criticism that in trying to do everything the SDGs have become too large, too messy and too ambitious. But it is noted that due to Africa’s involvement in the development of the SDGs they are much better suited to the continents aspirations than the Millennium Development Goals were. An important focus of the both the SDGs and the Foresight Africa report is the need for jobs, which pay a living wage. In Africa only one in five workers find employment in the wage economy. The SDGs in Goal 9.2 sets as an objective: “By 2030, significantly raise industry’s share of employment and gross domestic product, in line with national circumstances, and double its share in least developed countries.” Here the link between industry and jobs in made and the need for industrial development in Africa. [Read more…]