Friday, May 27, 2016

Africa can change

"fine words do not produce food" Old Nigerian Proverb

It is vital that healthy ecosystems underpin human health, wellbeing, livelihoods, jobs and sustainable growth. Africa is facing a harsh reality that is exacerbated by climate change, poverty and conflict.

Data shows that one in every two people on the continent lives in extreme poverty.
In 15 years time, most of the world's poor will reside in Africa.
About 240 million people go to bed hungry every night
Malnutrition kills more than 50 percent of the African children who die before they reach the age of five

Imagine for a moment the pain of a mother who cannot feed her newborn daughter with the proper food she needs to live beyond the age of five. Imagine the mother who toils all day in the field but still goes to bed with a stomach aching from hunger because she cannot afford enough food to feed her family.

Now picture this: Millions of perfectly good, nutritious tomatoes rotting in the hot Nigerian sun. While 13 million Nigerians suffer from hunger and more than one million children suffer from malnutrition, the country wastes more than 50 percent of its annual tomato harvest. We cannot continue to let this happen.
This is not just a Nigerian problem. It is an African problem. Sub-Saharan Africa spends $35bn on importing food each year and the region loses a further $48bn from food that is wasted post-harvest because of poor roads, inadequate storage and poor access to markets These are enormous resources that - when added to the $68bn the continent loses each year due to depleted soils and degraded land - could be ploughed back into African economies to drive the transformation that the continent so badly needs. The resources saved could be used to empower more men and women, end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition, combat climate change, create jobs and promote sustainable agriculture.

Africa's transformation lies in the continent's rich soil. Simply raising crop yields by 10 percent reduces poverty by about seven percent. Today, we already have the knowledge to do this. If we want to achieve food security we must ensure that we look after the vital ecosystems that allow us to produce our food. It means looking after our soils and our water sources. And it means sharing the knowledge and the technology that allows us to do all of these things. If we can do this - if we can optimise food production by embracing an ecosystem-based adaptation approach to agriculture - we can boost yields by up to 128 percent.

What is even better about this approach is that it does not require enormous resources. There is an ancient farming technique in West Africa called "zai". This simple technology - a circular depression is dug into dry soil and used to grow seedlings - can turn crusted land into nurseries by improving water retention. If properly executed, zai can increase yields by up to 500 percent in some of the trickiest terrains on Earth. We must also focus our efforts on improving every part of the food chain. We will have to improve our transport links and storage facilities so that we don't waste so much food after it is harvested.

As the continent continues to battle with climate change, we can no longer afford to play the proverbial fool for we already know that the continent's transformation lies in the richness of the African soil. And we already know how to harness this vast potential. So the time has come for us to put aside our fine words, pick up our tools and start to sow the seeds of the future we so desperately want.

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