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A Valentine to You from Africa

For many, Valentine’s Day is synonymous with chocolate— a product of the cacao tree.  Almost 70 percent of the world’s cocoa comes from Ghana, Ivory Coast and a few other West African countries.  Along with coffee and cotton, cacao is one of Africa’s most important commercial crops. Because cacao is a critical crop to farmers and the economies of African countries, and of course to the consumers who love it around the world, we thought it would provide an entry to the topic of agriculture in Africa.

For non-oil producing African countries, agriculture provides much of Africa’s economic activity and 50 percent of its exports.  About 70 percent of Africa’s people derive their livelihoods from agriculture, according to the World Bank.  All across Africa farming takes place on small plots and the farmers, mostly women, cannot afford the equipment necessary to farm efficiently.  Water comes mostly from increasingly variable rains, and crop-destroying diseases have not yet been controlled. The typical African farmer produces enough to feed her family, with little excess to take to market and limited means to get it there.  In rural areas, diets are poor, and malnutrition remains a widespread problem.

Africa’s agriculture has always been vulnerable to drought, disease, and pests. Today, these problems are about to worsen. Scientists agree that climate change will lead to increased drought and higher temperatures that will negatively affect agriculture in Africa, particularly its most important staple crops– millet, cassava, rice (West Africa), maize, and bananas and plantain. To bring us full circle to chocolate: cacao trees grow best within certain temperature ranges and thus are also threatened.

Aid for Africa believes that advances in African agriculture must not cease or reverse direction in the face of these looming threats. Much is being done.  Scientists continue to work with farmers to improve yields, fight disease, and increase production.  Women are becoming more adept at using mirco-loans to finance their small agricultural businesses. Home and school vegetable gardens, which supply dietary nutrients that are not available from staple crops, are increasing in number.  To preserve the sustainability of production systems, scientists are now looking at the diverse agricultural landscapes that incorporate ecosystems that preserve watersheds and wild biodiversity. We continue to report on these developments in blogs and on our member pages.

As part of our commitment to African agriculture, Aid for Africa has created the Aid for Africa Endowment for Food and Sustainable Agriculture at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy in Boston, Massachusetts. The Endowment will support graduate research on food security and poverty reduction in Sub Saharan Africa. Through the Endowment, Aid for Africa will strengthen its focus on expanding sustainable agriculture, building capacity to solve agricultural problems in Sub Saharan Africa and supporting our outreach on African issues.

So when you enjoy your Valentine chocolate, remember–chances are that the cocoa it contains came from Africa, where farming is critical to families, countries, and development. It’s Africa’s Valentine to you, with love.