Agricultural Solutions in Africa
13 Dec 2010
Worldwatch senior researcher Danielle Nierenberg spent the last year touring over 25 countries in sub-Saharan Africa in search of agricultural innovations that are adaptive, sustainable and ecosystem-friendly
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Nourishing the Planet has been assessing the state of agricultural innovations in Africa — from cropping methods, to irrigation technology, to agricultural policy — with an emphasis on sustainability, diversity, and ecosystem health, as well as productivity. The project aims to help global efforts to eradicate hunger and is an initiative of the Worldwatch Institute — an independent research organisation working for an environmentally sustainable society that will meet human needs. Following are just two of the projects I met with during my time in Africa.
Anywhere from 700,000 to a million people live in Kibera, which is likely the largest slum in sub-Saharan Africa — it’s hard to count the exact number because people don’t own the land. But despite the challenges being faced — a lack of clean water, sanitation services and land tenure — they are thriving.
We met a self-help group of women farmers, who are growing food for their families and selling the surplus. These groups are present all over Kenya, giving young people, women and other groups the opportunity to organise, share information and skills, and ultimately improve their wellbeing.
The women we met are raising vegetables on what they call ‘vertical farms.’ But unlike the developed world concept of housing vegetation on skyscrapers, these farms are in tall sacks filled with soil. The women grow crops in them on different levels by poking holes in the bags and planting seeds. They received training, seeds and sacks from French humanitarian organisation, Solidarites, to start their sack gardens.
The women informed us that more than 1,000 of their neighbours are growing food in a similar way — something Red Cross International recognised during 2007 and 2008 when there was conflict in the slums of Nairobi. No food could come into these areas but most residents didn’t go without food because so many of them were growing crops — in sacks, on vacant land, or elsewhere.
These small gardens can yield large benefits in terms of nutrition, food security and income. All the women told us that they saved money because they no longer had to buy vegetables at the store. They also claimed the food tasted better because it was organically grown, and gained a real sense of pride by growing it themselves.
In Mukono District, about an hour from Kampala in Uganda, agriculture used to be considered a ‘punishment’ for young people if they didn’t behave. It was something that they were forced to do if they couldn’t go to university or find jobs in the city, according to Edward Mukiibi and Roger Serunjogi, coordinators of the Developing Innovations in School Cultivation (DISC) project. Edward, 23, and Roger, 22, started DISC in 2006 with their own money, establishing gardens at 15 pre-school, day and boarding schools. Their aim was to improve nutrition, environmental awareness, and food culture and traditions. Over the last year, DISC has received global attention for its work and the project is now partly funded by Slow Food International.
They started with Sunrise pre-school. By teaching young children early about growing, preparing and eating, they are cultivating the next generation of farmers and consumers, helping to preserve the country’s culinary traditions. In addition to teaching pupils about planting indigenous and traditional vegetables and fruit trees, DISC puts a big emphasis on food preparation and processing. “If a person doesn’t know how to cook and prepare food, then they won’t know how to eat it,” says Edward.
Students working with DISC grow up with more respect and excitement for farming. At Sirapollo Kaggwass Secondary School, we met 19 year-old Mary Naku. This was her school’s first year with the project and she has gained both leadership and farming skills. “As youth we’ve learnt to grow fruits and vegetables, to support our lives,” she says. Thanks to DISC, students no longer see agriculture as an option of last resort, but rather as a way to make money, help their communities and preserve biodiversity.
Supported by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Nourishing the Planet and related work will culminate in the release of State of the World 2011 — a report designed as a road map to guide policymakers, foundations and international donors to the most effective agricultural development interventions across a wide range of ecological, social and economic settings.
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