Worldwatch Senior Researcher Danielle Nierenberg spent two months earlier this year touring several countries in southern Africa in search of farming innovations that are adaptive, sustainable, and ecosystem-friendly. Supported by a major grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, this and related work will culminate in State of the World 2011, a report designed to guide policymakers, foundations, and international donors interested in the most effective agricultural development interventions in various agroecological and socioeconomic settings. The material below is adapted from blog entries Danielle posted during her trip. Updates and more information can be found daily at our "Nourishing the Planet" blog (www.nourishingtheplanet.org).
Biotechnology in Africa
In our Nourishing the Planet project we're looking at how farmers and researchers all over the world are combining high-tech and low-tech agricultural practices to help alleviate hunger and poverty. One place they're trying to do this is at Africa Harvest/Biotech Foundation International. The organization's mission is "to use science and technology, especially biotechnology, to help the poor in Africa achieve food security, economic well-being and sustainable rural development."
While the biotechnology component of their mission may be controversial to some, Africa Harvest is determined that Africa will not be left behind when it comes to the development and use of the technology by African researchers and farmers. "If you want to make a difference on this continent," says Daniel Kamanga, communications director for Africa Harvest, "you have to look at African crops," including staples such as banana, cassava, and sorghum.
But these are also crops that are greatly vulnerable to diseases and pests. Bananas, for example, are susceptible to sigatoka virus, fusarium, weevils, nematodes, and others. To combat these problems, Florence Wambugu, the CEO of Africa Harvest and a scientist who formerly worked with Monsanto, helped develop the tissue culture banana. TC banana technology allows scientists to use biotechnology for the "rapid and large scale multiplication" of disease-free bananas.
Africa Harvest is also working on biofortifying sorghum with Vitamin A, creating "golden sorghum."
"But of course, there remains the thorny issue of control--among the biggest stumbling blocks for sharing any technology across countries and regions. Biotechnology has so far been largely owned by the private sector," said Kamanga. So, in addition to researching crop production, Africa Harvest is also working to improve capacity building for scientists all over Africa. "If we're going to have GMOs on the continent," says Kamanga, "we want scientists who know how to do it." Along with that, Africa Harvest is working to strengthen regulatory systems for biotechnology.
Valving What They Already Have
Richard Haigh doesn't look like your typical African pastoralist. Unlike many Africans who grew up tending cattle, sheep, goats, and other livestock, Richard started his farm in 2007 at the age of 40. He quit his 9-to-5 job and bought 23 acres of land outside Durban, South Africa. That land became Enaleni Farm (enaleni means "abundance" in Zulu), raising endangered Zulu sheep, Nguni cattle (a pest-tolerant breed indigenous to South Africa), and a variety of fruits and vegetables.
Richard likes to say that his farm isn't organic, but rather an example of how agroecological methods can work. He practices "push-pull"...