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A Green Revolution for Africa?

Development in Gardening’s WISER School chef harvests cilantro from the school farm for use in the kitchen (the garden feeds the 130+ girls 3 meals a day) DIG Kenya

With Africa’s population expected to quadruple by the end of this century, will its struggling agricultural sector meet the demand?

Recently, Eleanor Whitehead, writing in Forbes, examined how philanthropists and the private sector are helping African farmers boost food production and overcome poor soils, non-existent irrigation systems, and crumbling infrastructure.

A partnership between the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation is trying to spark a green revolution in Africa that finally kick-starts sustained, increased food production. The key is a “value chain,” which includes African-led research to identify and breed disease-resistant seeds and funding for local African companies to produce and sell the seeds. Begun in 2006, the effort is showing some success: improved seeds now comprise almost 90 percent of maize production in Malawi, Kenya, and Zambia. In West Africa, cassava yields have increased by 40 percent.

With 60 percent of the world’s uncultivated arable land in located in Africa, it’s not surprising that agriculture is finally getting attention. African and Western governments are increasing investments in African agriculture, as are private investors like Cargill and Unilever.  But private interest is prompting civil society’s concern about land grabs that may push small holder farmers from their land and ultimately worsen Africa’s food problems.

Whitehead doesn’t mention the important role nonprofit organizations and small businesses play in giving communities the skills they need to jump-start their own gardens and farms. Development in Gardening, an Aid for Africa member, is doing just that as it partners with African hospitals, schools, and orphanages to plant and maintain sustainable community gardens that provide nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables. Many of the beneficiaries are HIV/AIDS patients whose treatment relies on good nutrition.

Pangeo Coffee, a small Colorado coffee company, sells coffee from Ethiopia and Kenya, then  uses the proceeds to teach African villagers low cost, low tech, locally available ways to improve health and nutrition, start businesses, and improve agriculture.

All signs suggest that investment in African agriculture at all levels bodes well for Africa’s future.

Read more about Bill Gates’ work in Africa:

Learn more about Aid for Africa members working in agriculture.