Tag Archives: food security

Science Has the Power to Boost Agriculture in Africa

The agricultural sector is the world’s largest single employer. It provides jobs for more than 40% of the global population. It’s also the largest source of income and jobs for poor, rural households.

It is, by and large, a successful sector. There have been huge improvements in yields and food production over the past five decades. 

More cereals have been produced annually during the past 40 years than in any earlier period. It is also predicted that more grain will be harvested in 2017 than in any year in history. This is as a consequence of scientific advances, increased fertiliser use and favourable rainfall patterns.

Many of these gains have been felt in Africa. Improved seed varieties, new fertilisers and pesticides, improved credit and market access have all played a role. So have scientific innovations such as improved and more reliable weather prediction, improved drought tolerance and increased resistance to extreme climatic conditions, and cross-breeding for improved efficiency.

And yet hundreds of millions of people in Africa are going hungry every day. Globally, 800 million people are categorised as chronically hungry. Around 30% of them – 227 million people – live in Africa.

So where is the disconnect between food production and food security in Africa? Why does the continent spend about US $40 billion a year importing food when so many of its own residents are farmers? And how can this situation be changed?

At least part of the answer lies with science. There are already several excellent examples of ways in which science has led to dramatic increases in food production and moved farmers in some countries closer to self-sufficiency.

Science at work

A project in Uganda provides an excellent example. Ugandan scientist Robert Mwanga won the 2016 World Food Prize for his work in addressing Vitamin A deficiencies. Without Vitamin A, children are more likely to develop entirely preventable blindness. Working with people in Uganda’s poor, rural areas, Mwanga set about substituting, at scale, white sweet potato – which is low in Vitamin A – with a Vitamin A-rich alternative.

In Ethiopia, Gebisa Ejeta was awarded the 2009 World Food Prize for his work on improving the food supply of hundreds of millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa by increasing the production of sorghum hybrids resistant to drought and the parasitic Striga weed.

None of these projects would have been possible without governments supporting the research that lay behind them. But much more needs to be done. Research shows that investing an extra US $88 billion in agricultural research and development globally over the next 15 years could increase crop yields by 0.4% each year.

This could save 80 million people from hunger and protect five million children from malnourishment.

Africa is behind the curve on investing in research to improve agriculture outputs. Even though all 54 countries of the African Union have signed up to successive commitments – starting with the Maputo Declaration in 2003 – to increase their agricultural research budgets to at least 10% of their national budgets, few have actually done so.

At the last count only 13 had met or exceeded the 10% target in one or more years since 2003.

There’s an added problem. Africa relies on external capacity for most of its scientific research in agriculture. This has undermined its capacity to use science to deliver solutions for problems unique to Africa. This needs to change. Scientific research should be Africa-based, owned and led. Investment will be key – and so will solidarity among African scientists and governments.

Using science to benefit people

In 2014 African heads of state renewed their commitment to the agriculture sector when the signed the Malibu Declaration. The core of its agenda is to connect science to benefit society by:

  • Identifying broad areas of science that can be developed in partnership
  • Strengthening national science and technology institutions
  • Building human capacity
  • Diversifying funding sources to support science
  • Facilitating partnerships between African institutions at a national and continental level
  • Sharing information, technologies, information, facilities and staff for common challenges and opportunities, and
  • Creating a favourable policy environment for science

In addition to this, governments need to step up to the plate and increase their research budgets. Combined with the commitment to work together, the hope is that science will increasingly be used to create a more productive, efficient and competitive agriculture sector across the continent. This is critical to improve rural economies, where most people in Africa live.

Source: The Conversation

This App Let You Buy About to Expire Food at a Discount in Nigeria.

Growing up Oscar Ekponimo was familiar with hunger. After his father had a partial stroke, he was temporarily ill and unable to work, leaving the family struggling to make ends meet.

“I remember most times there was little or no food [in the house],” he told CNN. “I had to go to school without food and got by with snacks friends shared with me.” .

“I always said in the future I would do something to ensure others wouldn’t go through what I went through.”

Fast forward to 2017 and Ekponimo, now a software engineer, is doing exactly that through his web app Chowberry.

The app connects supermarkets to NGOs and low-income earners, allowing them to buy food that’s about to expire at a discount.

Ekponimo says the response to the project has been encouraging and he’s been able to see first hand how it’s transforming lives.

“We met one lady who has six children and survives on 400 naira ($1.05)a day,” he said. “She sells firewood and kunu (a local drink). One day the task force seized her kunu for hawking in the street, and she had nothing. She had to feed her family on what she made. So it’s nice to see the impact of what we’re doing.”

A three-month pilot involving 20 retailers reached about 300 people in Lagos and Abuja, feeding 150 orphans and children at risk.

He is hopeful that more national retailers will join the scheme as demand for the service continues to grow in the face of Nigeria’s recession.

“We went from about 1,500 daily visits to double that. There have been requests and demand, people tell me we really want this, we’re relying on what you guys are doing because things are expensive.”

Hunger and food insecurity are problems still plaguing the continent. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 223 million people in sub-Saharan Africa were hungry or undernourished in 2014-2016, the second largest number of hungry people in the world.

According to the World Food Programme, Nigeria is a ‘food deficit’ country, meaning that it cannot provide enough food for its population.
Widespread poverty, inflation and insecurity have been cited as contributing factors to Nigeria’s hunger problem.

Last year, the UN revealed 14 million in the northeast of the country need urgent humanitarian assistance because of the ongoing Boko Haram conflict and warned that 75,000 children could starve to death in months.

Last year, Ekponimo won a Rolex Award for Enterprise for his work and has hopes to expand.

“It’s been a wonderful journey,” he said. “We’re expanding our work and working on scaling to other parts of the country and to other regions and possibly replicating it in other parts of the world.”

Source: CNN

How Africans are Using Homegrown Technology to Help Millions in Times of Crisis.

Two weeks ago, in Stockholm, Mohammed Omer and four of his friends gathered to talk about the biting drought ravaging their home country, Somalia. Beyond donating funds, the tech developers and social activists came together to discuss ideas to assist those in need of immediate relief. Eventually, they decided to use Ushahidi the Kenyan open source software to develop a platform that would allow responders to connect with drought victims.

The result was Abaaraha (“drought” in Somali), a crowdsourcing platform that collects and verifies data through text, phone calls, email, and social media alerts. The web portal, which went live on Mar. 16, maps cases of malnutrition, disease outbreaks, and death. “There are no platforms that provide full information” with regards to the drought, says Omer. They’re “trying to fill that gap and to [help] coordinate the relief efforts that are taking place.” An unprecedented crisis is currently gripping Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria, and Yemen, threatening the lives of 20 million people, according to the United Nations (UN).

More than 5 million people face acute food shortages in northeast Nigeria, and famine in parts of South Sudan threatens more than 7.5 million people. In Somalia, where cholera outbreaks have killed hundreds of people, the looming famine threatens 6.2 million—more than half the population. It threatens to bring back the grim reality of 2011, when 260,000 Somalis starved to death.

The UN has given its Food and Agriculture Organization a $22 million loan to help tackle the crisis. Yet, that’s a far cry from the $4.4 billion they need by July to stall Yemenis, Somalis, Nigerians and South Sudanese from dying. But, not waiting on donors, young African professionals both at home and in the diaspora are taking the initiative to connect, collaborate, and raise funds and relief materials to assuage those in need. Equipped with smartphones and access to the internet, they are especially using social media outlets to spread the news about the drought and create positive change.

While raising awareness and funds is a vital part of managing the famine crisis, tech platforms like Abraaraha and others also help authorities identify, track and efficiently respond to specific areas in need, and in turn, helping avert deaths or a humanitarian catastrophe.

Global Traction

These collective efforts have started gaining global traction and drawing the attention of both governments and non-governmental agencies. Their efforts, in countries where governments are known to be slow-paced, inefficient and even corrupt, can prove to be the difference between life and death for hundreds of thousands at risk of hunger and disease. 

Bukky Shonibare is an activist and social impact worker, who alongside a group of well-meaning Nigerians, launched Adopt-A-Camp in 2015. The collaborative effort focused on sourcing donations through a dedicated online portal to provide amenities to internally displaced persons (IDPs) in camps. With the northeast devastated by the Boko Haram insurgency over much of the past decade, thousands of Nigerians have been left homeless and remain in congested camps.

Adopt-A-Camp raised $28,000 last year and built two learning hubs for out-of-school kids as well as a health center and toilet facilities in Biu IDP camp, in Nigeria’s northeastern Borno state. Across the three IDP camps in which it operates, backed mainly by donations from individuals, Adopt-A-Camp says over 6,000 IDPs are now beneficiaries of its donations, which also include food and basic necessities, like clothes.

Hashtag Fundraising

Twitter has especially been a critical tool to raise funds and build these virtual communities. After the hashtag Caawi Walaal (meaning “help a brother or a sister” in Somali) started circulating online, a group of volunteers got together to brand it and use it to sponsor 500 families living in drought-affected areas.

Their collective efforts raised more than $30,000 in total through mobile money transfers and a GoFundMe campaign. A one-day fundraising ceremony in Mogadishu also collected $15,000 in donations. Beyond Twitter, in Somaliland, friends and family members have also been forming groups on the instant messaging platform WhatsApp, urging each other to donate money and to sponsor hard-hit families.

Ahmed Ibrahim, one of the co-founders of the Walaal campaign, says the funds have allowed them to distribute food, medicine, and water in more than six regions across Somalia. “The biggest impact from all these collaborative efforts is that the information about the drought has helped spread all over,” Ibrahim said.

Celebrities all over the world, like Ben Stiller and NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick with help from Turkish Airlines, have joined the campaign to help Somalis facing starvation. The campaign, known as the Love Army for Somalia, has collected $2 million in less than a week .

In Nigeria, there have been similar social media-based fundraising efforts. Back in 2014, Modupe Odele, a lawyer now based in New York, went on a trip to northeast Nigeria. Gripped by the grim realities of residents whose lives had been devastated by the Boko Haram insurgency, Odele decided to start a campaign to donate blankets to IDPs. It started with one tweet, Odele says, but along with a group of interested people, the blanket drive has donated not only blankets but also other relief materials every month till date. “It was more than a blanket drive, the goal was to draw people’s attention to what was going on in the northeast,” Odele says.

Also in Nigeria, Oghenekaro Omu set up Sanitary Aid for Nigerian Girls (SANG), a campaign to donate sanitary pads to “girls from low-income homes and the girls in the IDP camps.” More than giving them pads, Omu says the project will also focus on teaching the girls about sanitary hygiene in general. Over-populated IDP camps have been struck by disease outbreaks, with young girls who are unable to access sanitary items, particularly at risk. Since launching the project, Omu says over 3,000 sanitary pads have been provided—all through social media donations. SANG has also snagged blue chip support: earlier this month, it announced a partnership with Microsoft.

Checks and Balances

Ibrahim from Caawi Walaal says that some contributors have been worried about whether or not the monies could be misappropriated. He says they partnered with Somalia’s umbrella organization for private schools, who manage the funds under a subsidiary account. “We have ensured that transparency and documentation are followed to the letter, but again, that they should help us disperse the funds faster.”

In Nigeria, transparency presents a bigger challenge. Reports of IDP camp officials stealing and selling donated items have resulted in government-sanctioned probes. It’s not just lowly officials either: back in December, the Nigerian senate uncovered an $8 million relief fund fraud implicating a high ranking official in the presidency.

To check fraud, Orodata, a Lagos-based civic startup has created IDP Tracker, an online tool with which provides crucial information on camps for the internally displaced in Nigeria’s northeast. Blaise Aboh, the lead data analyst at Orodata, says data from IDP Tracker will boost transparency around relief operations and also help NGOs and government policy-makers understand the scale of the problem as well as make more informed decisions.

Source: Quartz

How Knife-peeling of Cassava Leads to Huge Wastage

I know that science has helped in shaping the world through breakthroughs that have revolutionised humanity’s existence and provided valuable solutions to multiple challenges.
Bur currently, cassava, one of Africa’s leading root crops — a staple in over 20 African countries that serves as a huge source of livelihood for millions of families — is faced is facing challenges. For me the big question is: Will science come to its rescue? 

Scientists, especially plant breeders, need to return to the laboratory and develop cassava varieties that will have uniform shapes and sizes.

Kola Adeniji, Niji Farms, Nigeria

Cassava forms part of the daily meal for most families, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. The crop has also been researched thoroughly over the years and this has led to the tremendous improvements witnessed by farmers.

Despite the wonderful improvements, I learnt during a three-day workshop at the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan, Nigeria last week (4-6 October) that women and children spend many hours processing it. An individual can only peel about 30 kilograms an hour and at most 200 kilograms a day.

Peter Kolawale, a postharvest specialist at the IITA, says more than 45 per cent of the root is lost to the conventional peeling method used by women. “The convention method of using knife and removing the brownish outer cover lead to huge wastage,” Kolawale noted during the workshop, which discussed ways to process cassava to improve livelihoods.

Cassava has a very high amount of cyanide, a fast-acting and potentially deadly chemical, which must be removed from the root before it is consumed. Efforts by technologists across the globe in the past to address this problem has yielded little result.

Kola Adeniji, managing director of Nigeria-based Niji Farms, says that even with the introduction of mechanical processes the problem remains because of the irregular shapes and sizes of the crop, and that scientists need to develop tools that will enable farmers minimise post-harvest losses. “For instance, scientists, especially plant breeders, need to return to the laboratory and develop cassava varieties that will have uniform shapes and sizes. This way, fabricators can construct machines that can peel the root without wasting it,” says Adeniji.

But as lofty and magnificent as the idea of uniform shape and size may sound, Unamma Chika Victor, an agronomist with the Italy-headquartered International Fund for Agriculture and Development, says developing a uniform form of cassava may be possible with time but may not be acceptable to farmers.

“Cassava is a root crop that grows on the top soil and can expand so long as the soil is fertile, so controlling it to maintain certain shape or size may be difficult,” explains Victor. “With science, almost everything is possible but we have to consider the time, resources and fund needed to undertake such research and more importantly [and whether] farmers like it.”

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.

Is Genetically Engineered Food Good For You

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Millions of Nigerians are urging the Nigerian government to reject Monsantos attempts to introduce genetically modified (GMO) cotton and maize into the country’s food and farming systems.

Organizations representing more than 5 million Nigerians, including farmers, faith-based organisations, civil society groups, students and local community groups, have submitted a joint objection to the country’s National Biosafety Management Agency (NABMA) expressing serious concerns about human health and environmental risks of genetically altered crops.

The groups’petition follows Monsanto Agricultural Nigeria Limited’s own application to NAMBA that seeks to release GMO cotton (Bt cotton, event MON 15985) into the city of Zaria as well as surrounding towns. Another application seeks confined field trials of two GMO corn varieties (NK603 and stacked event MON 89034 x NK603) in multiple locations in Nigeria.

The Modification in GMOs
In an interview with Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Blumenstein, Bill Gates explained his views about GMOs: “What are called GMOs are done by changing the genes of the plant, and it’s done in a way where there’s a very thorough safety procedure, and it’s pretty incredible because it reduces the amount of pesticide you need, raises productivity (and) can help with malnutrition by getting vitamin fortification.

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GMOs as an Alternative to Global Food Security
GMO-advocates say that biotechnology is not only safe for human consumption and the environment, it’s also a solution to malnutrition and global food security, as these crops have been genetically tinkered with to provide certain nutritional benefits and/or spliced-and-diced to resist certain pathogens and other roadblocks.

GMOs companies and foundations are heavily funded. For instance, Monsanto’s Water Efficient Maize for Africa, a five-year development project led by the Kenyan-based African Agricultural Technology Foundation, aims to develop a variety of drought-tolerant maize seeds. The project receives funding from the Gates Foundation, United States Agency for International Development and Howard G. Buffett Foundation.

Bill Gate, on his views about GMOs added: “…I think, for Africa, this is going to make a huge difference, particularly as they face climate change … The U.S., China, Brazil, are using these things and if you want farmers in Africa to improve nutrition and be competitive on the world market, you know, as long as the right safety things are done, that’s really beneficial. It’s kind of a second round of the green revolution. And so that Africans I think will choose to let their people have enough to eat.”

Nnimmo Bassey, the director of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation, one of the leading opposition groups, objects to the argument that GMOs are necessary to ensure food security and nutrition in Africa and that the continent can feed itself without the aid of multinational biotech companies. “Genetically engineered crops are not engineered to help anybody,” he says. “They are engineered to help the industry that produces the crops.”

Why is GMOs Bad for Nigeria?
In a press release, the protesting groups said they are particularly alarmed about the commercial release of Bt cotton into Nigeria, which is being phased out in Burkina Faso due to the “inferior lint quality” of the GMO cultivars.

“We are totally shocked that it should come so soon after peer-reviewed studies have showed that the technology has failed dismally in Burkina Faso,” Nnimmo Bassey, said in a statement. “It has brought nothing but economic misery to the cotton sector there and is being phased out in that country where compensation is being sought from Monsanto.”

He asked in the statement: “Since our Biosafety Act has only recently entered into force, what biosafety legislation was used to authorize and regulate the field trials in the past in accordance with international law and best biosafety practice?”

Former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan signed the National Biosafety Management Bill into law last year, basically opening the doors to GMOs cultivation in the country.

The groups noted Monsanto’s crops are genetically enhanced to tolerate the use of the herbicide glyphosate which was declared as a possible carcinogen by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) last March.

“Should commercialization of Monsanto’s GM maize be allowed pursuant to field trials, this will result in increased use of glyphosate in Nigeria, a chemical that is linked to causing cancer in humans,” Mariann Orovwuje, Friends of the Earth International’s food sovereignty co-coordinator, said in a statement.

“Recent studies have linked glyphosate to health effects such as degeneration of the liver and kidney, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. That NABMA is even considering this application is indeed unfortunate and deeply regrettable, knowing full well about the uncontrolled exposure that our rural farmers and communities living close to farms will be exposed to.”

Besides the potential contamination of local maize varieties, the groups argued that the health risks of introducing GMO maize into Nigeria could be “enormous” considering that maize is a staple food in their diet.

Coupled with a lack of resources to adequately control and monitor the human and environmental risks of GMO crops and glyphosate, the groups argued that Nigeria does not have a platform to test for glyphosate or other pesticide residues in food and food products, nor do they have an agency that can monitor the herbicide’s impact on the environment, including water resources.

Culled from EcoWatch