<body> --------------
Contact Us       Consulting       Projects       Our Goals       About Us
home » Archive »
Nature Blog Network

    Mongabay, a leading resource for news and perspectives on environmental and conservation issues related to the tropics, has launched Tropical Conservation Science - a new, open access academic e-journal. It will cover a wide variety of scientific and social studies on tropical ecosystems, their biodiversity and the threats posed to them. Tropical Conservation Science - March 8, 2008.

    At the 148th Meeting of the OPEC Conference, the oil exporting cartel decided to leave its production level unchanged, sending crude prices spiralling to new records (above $104). OPEC "observed that the market is well-supplied, with current commercial oil stocks standing above their five-year average. The Conference further noted, with concern, that the current price environment does not reflect market fundamentals, as crude oil prices are being strongly influenced by the weakness in the US dollar, rising inflation and significant flow of funds into the commodities market." OPEC - March 5, 2008.

    Kyushu University (Japan) is establishing what it says will be the world’s first graduate program in hydrogen energy technologies. The new master’s program for hydrogen engineering is to be offered at the university’s new Ito campus in Fukuoka Prefecture. Lectures will cover such topics as hydrogen energy and developing the fuel cells needed to convert hydrogen into heat or electricity. Of all the renewable pathways to produce hydrogen, bio-hydrogen based on the gasification of biomass is by far both the most efficient, cost-effective and cleanest. Fuel Cell Works - March 3, 2008.

    An entrepreneur in Ivory Coast has developed a project to establish a network of Miscanthus giganteus farms aimed at producing biomass for use in power generation. In a first phase, the goal is to grow the crop on 200 hectares, after which expansion will start. The project is in an advanced stage, but the entrepreneur still seeks partners and investors. The plantation is to be located in an agro-ecological zone qualified as highly suitable for the grass species. Contact us - March 3, 2008.

    A 7.1MW biomass power plant to be built on the Haiwaiian island of Kaua‘i has received approval from the local Planning Commission. The plant, owned and operated by Green Energy Hawaii, will use albizia trees, a hardy species that grows in poor soil on rainfall alone. The renewable power plant will meet 10 percent of the island's energy needs. Kauai World - February 27, 2008.

Creative Commons License

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Malawi's miracle: towards a Greener Revolution in Africa?

BBC science and environment reporter James Morgan has gone into the field to meet the families who are sowing the seeds of a uniquely African green revolution - one which is as kind to the environment as it is to the economy. Morgan visits Malawi, where this revolution has turned the country from a begging bowl into a major regional food exporter. Is Malawi's transformation a sign of things to come on the continent?

Morgan starts his account with a quote from Norman Borlaug, one of the founding fathers of the original Green Revolution - credited with wiping out starvation in Asia. Borlaug is not kind to 'environmentalists' and 'green campaigners' from Europe, amongst who it has become terribly unfashionable to promote the recipes the Green Revolution:
If [environmentalists] lived for just one month among the misery of the developing world, as I have for 50 years, they'd be crying out for tractors and fertiliser and irrigation canals.
Borlaug is right: some environmentalists in the West live in a science-averse vacuum, out of touch with the needs of hundreds of millions of people in the Global South. In Europe, they promote problematic concepts like organic farming or 'local food', which are only conceivable in post-industrial societies that have a large number of very wealthy citizens. These ideas have a lot of inherent value, but it remains to be seen whether they can be introduced in the developing world, where producing food and energy are bare necessities, not luxuries. Campaigners in the West are often wary of biotechnology, which is, says Borlaug, a grave mistake.
Responsible biotechnology is not the enemy. Starvation is. - Norman Borlaug, Nobel Peace laureate, father of the Green Revolution
But the question is whether there really is a need for oppositional, black-and-white thinking about the way forward for Africa's people, the vast majority of who are farmers.

James Morgan went to Malawi, where he wanted to discover whether Kofi Annan's words can become reality. Annan is the new chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra) - a $200m, pan-African programme, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates and Rockefeller foundations.
Let us generate a uniquely African Green revolution. There is nothing more important than this. - Kofi Annan, chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa
The call for a Green Revolution in Africa is hard to argue. Over the last 50 years, African farmers have laboured in the heat, while countries like Mexico, India and the Philippines have undergone a radical transformation - applying novel fertilisers and pesticides to churn out bumper harvests of new high-yield varieties of wheat and rice.

Meanwhile, Africa has been cultivating greater and greater poverty statistics. Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region in the world where per capita food production has steadily declined. One third of Africans are malnourished.

Soils are among the most depleted on Earth, writes Morgan. Farmers do not have access to productive seed varieties and those that do have neither the knowledge nor the tools to reap the harvest. Slash and burn still reigns:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

But it are these very challenges that has drawn the world's crop scientists and agro-economists to Malawi. They hope to pioneer novel farming systems that propel Africa towards a new era of food security.

The Greener Revolution
It has already been dubbed by members of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as "a greener revolution". "Greener" because it works with ecosystems, not against them. A revolution that is "pro-poor and pro-environment".

The talk around the conference tables is of "empowering" subsistence farmers to find their own, local solutions - farming techniques which are sustainable, affordable and tailored to local soils, markets and eating preferences.

Over the next week, Morgan will be taking a look at these projects first hand. He's wondering how women and men, who have been sowing the same maize seeds for generations, really feel about the new hybrid varieties of seeds which are more nutritious, but also more hungry for expensive pesticide and fertiliser.

'Against the grain'

Most of all, Morgan is curious to find out whether the "Malawian miracle" he has read about (and on which we have reported numerous times) is bona fide or illusory. Is the revolution underway, or a simple matter of better rainfall?

The facts are these: During the last decade, Malawi suffered six successive years of food shortage, culminating in 2005. One third of the population - 4.5million people - went hungry. Step forward two years, and Malawi is exporting more than one million metric tonnes of maize, its staple crop.

The government, against the advice of the IMF and the World Bank, has handed out vouchers to 1.5 million of the country's poorest farmers, enabling them to buy inputs - seeds, fertiliser and pesticides. Meanwhile, yields have mushroomed. Malawians are selling maize to Kenya and giving food aid to Zimbabwe.

BBC: Seeking Africa's green revolution - October 6, 2008.

Biopact: Malawi's super harvest proves biofuel critics wrong - or, how to beat hunger and produce more oil than OPEC - December 04, 2007


Blogger rufus said...

The corn prices will moderate. We're down to about $0.07/lb in the U.S., today.

The "middle men" are getting rich. Maybe, they'll learn how to set up co-ops, and such, and "work around" the gougers.

In the meantime, this is how "economies" are built. Soon, the farmers will have some "Cash" to buy products made by the city-dwellers. It's quite simple. It's called "competitive advantage," or "division of labor."

Hoping for the best for them.

3:57 PM  
Anonymous Aaron S said...

I am really glad to see this posting on Malawi. It is indeed a strong example of what can be achieved with agricultural technology in Africa. I couldn’t agree more with Norman Borlaug. We have a responsibility to see that all available technologies are at the least given due consideration in the advantages that they can bring in stemming the miserable cycle of starvation and poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa. Biotechnology. Biotech crops are the most extensively tested food crops available today, and their safety has been endorsed by scientific and regulatory agencies around the world – facts which are often overlooked. Add to that the fact that they enable significant yield increases and thus a limitation to the land that is encroached upon for agricultural use, and the dismissal of this technology by many western environmentalists – and governments – looks increasingly irresponsible in the face of the vast problems faced by Sub-Saharan Africa in feeding its people. Thanks again for the posting.

4:26 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home