Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

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Africans urged to embrace scientific agriculture

Africans urged to embrace scientific agriculture

Sunday, 24 October 2010 18:29

THERE is need to embrace scientific interventions in agriculture in order to
improve Africa’s poor yields, especially in light of food crises on the
continent, former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan has said.

Speaking on Africa’s agriculture to students and journalists at Columbia
University in New York recently, Annan said many countries on the African
continent had made strides towards millennium development goals like
education and health but need to do more to reduce poverty.

Annan’s comments followed a number of disturbing indicators that food prices
could reach the dangerous levels of 2007 to 2008, when riots broke out in
several hunger-stricken African countries and the number of people suffering
from hunger reached a record high.

In Zimbabwe, says the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation
(FAO), at least 1,68 million people will still need food assistance next

In response to the indicators, the World Bank, which said it expects high
volatility in food prices to continue until at least 2015, reactivated its
Global Food Crisis Response Programme (GFRP), dedicating up to US$760
million to countries at risk.

With 100 million hectares of land under crop production and producing about
100 million tonnes of corn per year, Africa is seen as faring badly in
agriculture. Other continents have much higher yields compared to Africa,
with Latin America, South and East Asia having an average of three tonnes
per hectare, with China and North America and Europe having five and 10

Low production forces the continent to import between 35 and 40 million
tonnes of corn per year.

“We have the soils, the environment, the seeds and the models but there are
a lot of poor and food insufficient people on the continent,” Annan said.
“For a long time, we did not have the right seeds and our soils have been
used over and over again, most of our farmers are smallholders who cannot
afford fertilisers yet in many cases, they hardly get any help from
government and they have no access to finance.

“We need a unique African green revolution.”

Annan, who initiated the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra)
which supports small-scale farmers, said there was need to embrace
technology to improve yields, highlighting that in the Agra project,
small-holder farmers worked with scientists to improve varieties of their
local staple foods.

Columbia University- based agronomist Pedro Sanchez said in some parts of
Africa, poor performance can be partially blamed on some misconceptions
about agriculture.

He said one of the misconceptions, a controversial one for Zimbabwe, is the
way genetically modified (scientifically enhanced) organisms are viewed.
“You hear people saying that farmers now have to buy seed every year because
of GMOs,” Sanchez said. “But this has always been the case even with hybrid
(naturally enhanced) seeds since the 1970s.

“All crops are GMOs in the sense that there has been a gene transfer from
one plant to another. Wheat for example, is a product of a gene transfer
from one grass to another.”

Sanchez said there was no scientific evidence that GMOs were harmful to
humans and the environment, adding that some of these have yielded positive
results for other countries including South Africa.

He also said some ecologists are dealing the sector a heavy blow by
discouraging the use of fertilisers.

“They say agriculture should mimic natural systems which are closed in terms
of nutrients cycle,” he said. “But agriculture is an open system in which
nutrients are exported and do not come back to the same field.

“Therefore to balance the cycle, which is ecologically sound to do, the
exports should be replaced by inputs to nutrilise the soils like fertilisers
or manures in order to get high production.”

Sanchez  said some people, including donors, were discouraging farmers from
using chemical fertilisers saying they were bad and advocating for organic
farming which he said cannot work well in Africa as it required highly
fertile soils yet most of Africa’s soils continue to lose nutrients and will
require decades and even centuries to nutrilise.

He dismissed the notion that local foods were good and better for the
environment. Sanchez said while some local seed varieties may have low
yields, others from elsewhere may produce higher and better yields.

Annan called for closer co-operation among African governments, donor
countries and civil society organisations. He also said governments and
financial institutions should avail cheap loans to farmers.

“We also need to link them with markets, improve storage and processing so
they do not incur losses with their produce getting spoiled,” he said.



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