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…]

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…]

6 indirect approaches to improving nutrition – part one

ID-100334531Malnutrition, in its various forms, is thought to affect over 2 billion people in the world and, as such, has far reaching consequences for societies, economies and livelihoods. Tackling poor nutrition is both complex and opportunistic in that there are links between nutrition and a whole other range of factors. In other words by tackling nutrition directly we may positively contribute to other developmental problems but there are also multiple ways to address undernutrition indirectly. While there is broad consensus on the need to take direct nutrition interventions such as promoting exclusive breastfeeding or biofortification of crops with micronutrients such as vitamin A or zinc, there is also an urgent need to tackle the underlying and inter-related determinants of malnutrition. The Lancet, for example, suggests that direct nutrition interventions, even if implemented at 90% coverage in high-burden countries would only reduce global stunting by 20%.

So-called nutrition-sensitive approaches are gaining popularity and the importance of including nutrition in a wide variety of sectors and policies is becoming better understood. Here we discuss some of the alternative routes through which malnutrition is impacted and thus could be reduced.

  1. Agriculture

The contribution of agriculture to meeting the nutritional needs of the population cannot be overstated, and the nutrition component of agricultural policies and investment plans needs to be strengthened. In Africa, agricultural development has been primarily focused on boosting production and developing markets with little attention given to nutrition. But agriculture is at the heart of addressing malnutrition. Its products provide us with the energy, protein, vitamins and minerals our bodies need. And in many developing countries the majority of people who are malnourished live in rural areas and depend on smallholder farming for their livelihoods. In fact, demographic and health survey (DHS) data shows that individuals living in rural areas are between 1.3 and 3.3 times more likely to be stunted than people in urban areas, which indicates that agriculture still has a long way to go in providing the global population with the right nutrition and adequate calories. It also indicates that by improving agricultural diversity and productivity in rural farming areas, malnutrition could be significantly reduced, although evidence on the impact agriculture can have on nutrition is currently limited in formal literature.

So how does agriculture need to change in order to better serve the world’s nutritional needs? The food system needs to provide access to enough nutritious foods, promote social norms that foster good nutrition practices and provide adequate income to purchase nutritious foods. Ensuring nutritious foods are affordable, accessible and available is essential and has typically been overlooked in the agricultural sector, rather being the domain of development and health. Home and school gardens, small livestock production, aquaculture and marketing policies which keep the prices of such foods at affordable levels are examples of food-based nutrition improvement initiatives. Some argue that the entire food chain needs to be put under a “nutrition lens” in order to identify areas for intervention such as “expanding and diversifying food production, improving food processing, preservation and preparation of foods, reducing losses and waste and assessing intervention impact on dietary consumption”.

The Soils, Food and Health and Communities (SFHC) project, used participatory research methods and awareness raising activities in Ekwendeni village in Northern Malawi to help smallholder famers select and test mixtures of diverse legume species for growing in combination with maize. Project results show that the intercropping of maize with legume mixes has led to improved nutrition for children in communities where the project is being implemented (over 9000 farmers have adopted this technology so far). [Read more…]

Seeds, superfoods and soils for resilience, oh my!

By Emily Alpert

Smallholder farmers in Africa are no strangers to climate change. The first impacts can already be felt. Erratic rainfall, shorter growing seasons and prolonged droughts mean that crops suffer, as do the livelihoods of smallholder farmers. To meet the demands of a growing global and African population, crop productivity will have to be increased. Under climate change conditions, this will have to be achieved with fewer resources and smarter interventions. Seeds, superfoods, and soils all offer some solutions.

Seeds

Farmer resilience to climate change can be strengthened in many ways: income diversification, secure land rights or better access to insurance policies are all examples. Resilience can also come in the form of a seed.

Drought-tolerant maize varieties hope to do just that. These seeds are bred with the ability to withstand periods of low and erratic rainfall. The public-private partnership Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA), developed under the coordination of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), aims to develop drought-tolerant and insect-protected maize using conventional breeding, marker-assisted selection, and biotechnology, with a goal to make these varieties available royalty-free to smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa through African seed companies. So far, conventional drought-tolerant maize hybrids – varieties developed by crossing two inbred lines – have been released in Kenya and South Africa. [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.

Do Aid and Development need their own TripAdvisor feedback system?, From Poverty to Power

Rebranding bran: teaching nutrient-rich cooking in Mali, The Guardian

African hub set up to boost research autonomy, Nature

Global Food Industry Reluctant Leaders of Smallholder Farming Revolution, The Huffington Post

Managing for Resilience: Framing an integrated landscape approach for overcoming chronic and acute food insecurity, Buck and Bailey

Agri-tech for Africa’s food security, development, SciDev.Net

Water-Smart Agriculture in East Africa, PAEPARD

New interactive tool brings malnutrition data to life, Devex

Fateful Harvest: Why Brazil has a big appetite for risky pesticides, Reuters

Denmark’s Drug-Free Pigs, The New York Times [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.

Pope Francis Urges Concrete Action in Global Nutrition Challenge At UN Conference in Rome, All Africa

Researchers Find an Area the Size of the EU is Cultivated in Urban Areas Around the World, Food Tank

Want to grow more food? Boost investment, women’s land tenure, researcher says, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Mobilising The Data Revolution for Sustainable Development, PAEPARD

World Food Programme: ‘Without enough food people can’t fight Ebola’, BBC News

Monsanto, Dow Unit Sue Maui County Over GMO Law, Huffington Post

World Water Summit Coverage – Key Themes for Agriculture, Farming First

How do farmers’ behavioural attitudes affect uptake of climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies?, ILRI

Improving Nutrition Outcomes Through Optimized Agricultural Investments (ATONU), PAEPARD

Farming in the face of climate change? Monsanto has an app for that, GRIST

IFAD programme builds small farmers’ resilience through knowledge sharing in water-scarce countries, IFAD [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.

Africa Conference on Land Grabs 2014, PAEPARD

A Meta-Analysis of the Impacts of Genetically Modified Crops, PLOS One

Climate change a “threat multiplier” for farming-dependent states-analysis, Thomson Reuters Foundation

10 billion people for dinner | Nina Fedoroff | TEDxCERN, YouTube

Biotechnology: Against the grain, Nature

Climate smart, sustainable agriculture, AgriPulse

Thirty percent of world’s food wasted, new online platform seeks savings, Thomson Reuters Foundation

How To Eat For The Climate, Forbes

mNutrition – how mobile phones are improving nutrition, The Guardian

South Africa: Five Diseases, One Vaccine – a Boost for Emerging Livestock Farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, All Africa

New project to boost yam production in West Africa, IITA

IPCC preparing ‘most important’ document on climate change, BBC

Resilience for food and nutrition security, IFPRI [Read more…]