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“The New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation in Africa” – Towards Food Security in Kenya

The New Harvest by Calestous Juma

Food insecurity is biting Africa. In Kenya and the Horn of Africa the Red Cross has said that more than 11 million people are hanging at the the edge of death, starvation and malnutrition.

This has prompted a campaign dubbed as “Kenya For Kenya” to mobilize money for food stuffs for the Northern part of Kenya where the Dadabu refugee camp happens to be. To make matters worse Dadabu is being stretched beyond its limits from the surging number of refugees seeking a haven of hope – partly from the ravaging hunger and insecurity in the region.

Kenya, like other Africa nations, is grappling to come up with strategies to overcome persistent food shortages that are compounded by threats from climate change.

Calestous Juma, who is a professor of international development, Director of the Science, Technology, and Globalization Project at Harvard University and a Fellow of the Royal Society, the United Kingdom’s scientific academy, has charted a new course for the future of the continent in his book entitled: The New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation in Africa.

The insights contained in the book cover advances in sciences and technology, the creation of a regional market and the emergence of a new crop of entrepreneurial leaders dedicated to the continent’s economic improvement.

The book includes a number of case studies from developing nations around the world. In Africa, Malawi is one of the countries that has redeemed it self from the jaws of hunger to a basket of food under the leadership of President Mr Bingu wa Mutharika. Whilst accepting the chairmanship of the Africa Union (AU) Assembly in February 2010 he was quoted in the book as saying:

“One challenge we all face is poverty, hunger and malnutrition of large populations. Therefore achieving food security at the African level should be able to address this problems. I would therefore request the Africa Union Assembly to share the dream that five years from now no child in Africa should die of hunger and malnutrition. No child should go to bed hungry.”

The book goes on to reflect Mr Mutharika’s vision: “I realize that this is an ambitious dream but one that can be realized. We all know that Africa is endowed with fast fertile soils, favorable climates, vast water basins and perennial rivers that could be utilized for irrigation farming and lead to the Green Revolution, and mitigate the diverse effects of climate change. We can therefore grow enough food to feed everyone in Africa. I am, therefore, proposing that our agenda for Africa should focus on agriculture and food security.”

President Mutharika proposed that Africa’s slogan should be: “Feed Africa through New Technologies: Let us Act Now.”

On this note, Prof Juma articulates that the current global economic crisis, rising food prices, and the threat of climate change should reinforce the urgency to find lasting solutions to Africa’s agricultural challenges.

The book says that there is a need to harness technology to improve food production using existing technology. However, “African countries are faced with enormous technological challenges.”

Nevertheless, he cites local innovations and indigenous knowledge as well as the uptake in information and communication technology, genetics, ecology, and geographical science as a means of escape for the continent. He says new approaches will need to be adopted to promote close interaction between government, business, farmers, academia, and civil society.

The book points out that sustainable agriculture should be knowledge driven, thus fundamental reforms are urgently needed in existing learning institutions, especially universities and research institutions. For this to be realized “key functions such as research, teaching, extension, and commercialization need to be much more closely integrated.”

Enabling infrastructure is identified as essential for agricultural development in Africa. “Infrastructure represents a fundamental base for applying technical knowledge in sustainable development.” Lack of education and human capacity is highlighted as contributing to poor food production. Low enrollment and completion rates are cited to be contributors into this.

“One of the most distressing facts about many African school system is that they often focus little on teaching students to maximize the opportunities that are available to them in their own communities, rather, they tend to prioritize a set of skills that is less applicable to village life and encourages children to aspire to join the waves of young people moving to urban areas,” Prof Juma writes.

In the book, Juma councils the continent to include agriculture as a formal subject – from the earliest childhood experience to agricultural universities. He encourages policy makers to invest and work to develop students’ agricultural and technical knowledge at primary and secondary levels.

Universities are encouraged to consider agriculture as an important research domain by devolving funds and staff members in developing new agricultural techniques that will make sense for the Africa population and ecosystem. “Universities need to be connected to the farmers and their lifestyle to positively foster agricultural growth.”

The creation of agricultural enterprises is identified as a way to stimulate rural development. African governments are challenged to come up with policies that can support agribusiness and technology incubators, export processing zones and production networks.

Additionally, Prof Juma challenges African governments to forge viable technology alliances, on the note that executive leadership like that of Malawi is necessary to bring science, technology, and engineering to the center of Africa’s economic renewal.

About Robert Okemwa Onsare

Robert Okemwa Onsare
Robert Onsare is pursuing Electronics Technology at the University of Eastern Africa, Baraton. He is a Cluster Strategy trained facilitator by Kenya's National Economic and Social Council (NESC). Mr Onsare has been an incubation student at the University of Nairobi, School of Engineering, FabLab, a venture project of the university and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He is a member of the African Technology Policy Studies Network (ATPS) and a published poet. Mr Onsare is based in Kenya.

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