Sustainable food in Africa
Most of Africa struggles to produce enough food, mainly through poor practices, poor government policies and a lack of money and education among farmers.
There are now many well meaning schemes to increase yields, but it will be a great shame if African farmers become dependent on fossil fuel inputs for better yield, only to find that in the future they cannot afford to buy them.
In the June issue of National Geographic magazine, there is a report that tells of two different approaches to increase yields in Malawi. The first is a government scheme where about 1.3 million farm families received coupons that allowed them to buy three kilograms of hybrid corn seed and two 50- kilogram bags of fertilizer at a third of the market price.
This has had excellent results with the 2007 harvest being a national record. But is it sustainable?
In northern Malawi, a different project is getting the same results at a fraction of the cost. In Ekwendeni Hospital, the staff were seeing high rates of malnutrition which research suggested was due to corn monoculture that had depleted soils and was giving poor yields.
The SFHC project now distributes legume seeds, recipes, and technical advice for growing nutritious crops like peanuts, pigeon beans, and soybeans, which enrich the soil by fixing nitrogen while also enriching children’s diets.
This is surely the sort of project that will give lasting results and will not make Africa’s small farmers as dangerously dependent on finite resources that are bound to become scarce and expensive, as the rest of us. I think that the education part is very important, not only to show farmers how to manage these crops, but also how to use them well in a balanced diet.
It is my opinion that the use of legume crops will need to increase in places like Europe too as we build a farming system that produces more vegetable protein with lower inputs. As we cannot grow soybeans in northern Europe, we really need a breeding programme to improve field bean and pea varieties.