Modern Agricultural Technologies Key to Africa’s Food Security

Two major U.S.-based foundations have announced a grand scheme to rejuvenate Africa’s agriculture. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation will spend $150 million towards green revolutionizing Africa’s agriculture.

The program, according to a joint press release from the two foundations, “intends to improve agricultural development in Africa by addressing both farming and relevant economic issues, including soil fertility and irrigation, farmer management practices, and farmer access to markets and financing.”

There is no doubt that this initiative has come at an opportune time. Africa’s agriculture is near total collapse and requires urgent reengineering. Africa has been slow in embracing cutting edge agricultural technologies such as biotechnology that have transformed the economies of many developing countries such as India, South Africa, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and China.

This initiative stands a good chance to transform Africa’s agriculture. For this dream to be realized, however, every modern agricultural technology must be explored. Bill Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation envisages “African plant scientists developing higher-yielding and drought resistant crops and African entrepreneurs starting seed companies to reach small-scale farmers…”

Developing high yielding and drought resistant crops would remain a dream as long as Africa continues to view new agricultural technologies prescribed by the west as tools of domination. This has been, especially, the case with agricultural biotechnology. Anti-biotechnology activists have made African farmers to believe that agricultural biotechnology only serves the interests of multinational seed companies. This is misleading.

As Africa gears up to receive the Rockefeller and Gates Foundations largesse, it must, first of all, appreciate that dismissing such innovative agricultural technologies as biotechnology by a hand wave will not serve its agricultural interests.

It’s instructive to mention that the African Union (AU) has a pivotal role to play in ensuring that Africa gains maximum benefits from novel agricultural technologies such as biotechnology.

Late last year, the AU through the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), commissioned a panel of African scientists and policy makers to study how modern biotechnology could be integrated into Africa’s agricultural and health sectors. The panel, co-chaired by Prof. Calestous Juma of Harvard University, has already drafted a report that, among other things, proposes the establishment of regional “Centers of Excellence” for biotechnology research. The report will be submitted to African heads of state meeting in January 2007. AU must ratify this report to enable Africa improve its agriculture.

Rebecca R. Ammons

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