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How science could spark a second Green Revolution
(CSM) To fight poverty and overpopulation, crops need coaxing. Advances in deep-root food plants may trigger a new Green Revolution.
With most good farmland already under cultivation, any new acreage would likely be in marginal land with either poor soil conditions or little rainfall. What’s more, climate change is expected to make some regions drier or hotter, which may send crop yields plummeting.
What the world needs, say Dr. [Jonathan] Lynch [professor of plant nutrition at Pennsylvania State University] and others, is a new Green Revolution that can increase yields in the face of challenging and changing conditions.
“The idea that we could fertilize and irrigate our way out of this problem was the first Green Revolution” led by Nobel Peace Prize-winner Norman Borlaug and others, Lynch says. The second Green Revolution is going to be how we get plants to grow productively with less water and artificial fertilizer, he says.
That’s where Lynch’s idea for improving roots comes in. He calls the concept “steep, cheap, and deep” – developing crop roots that grow steeper and deeper into the soil, making them able to find more moisture and nutrients, thereby reducing need for irrigation and nitrogen fertilizers. (With crops that rely on phosphorus, he’s breeding shallow roots, since phosphorus is typically found in topsoil.)
12 July 2009
Parker Mitchell: It’s worth the risk, Ottawa: Set up an agriculture innovation fund for Africa
20 per cent of all money should be set aside for an agriculture innovation fund. This fund would be charged with identifying and investing in yield-increasing projects, which could include private-sector agriculture entrepreneurs. There would be no blanket solutions; agriculture is highly locally dependent, so each country’s issues would be different. This would be closer to a venture capital model of support and would likely not be conducive to some of the bureaucratic constraints that prevent people closest to the field from taking decisions, so it might require Canada to deliver our aid through a new entity.
15 June
Code Of Conduct Urged For Africa Farm Land Grabs
(Reuters) – African countries may need to put in place a code of conduct to govern farmland purchases on the continent by foreigners, an agribusiness conference heard on Monday. In a bid to overcome reliance on food imports, countries in Asia and the Gulf have been at the forefront of farmland purchases in the world’s poorest continent, where millions survive on subsistence farming. But these so-called “land grabs” have drawn sharp criticism from land activists — who raised concerns of exploitation — as well as some international donor agencies, the African Union and the European Union.
25 May
What Will Happen When the Baobab Goes Global?

Africa is no stranger to the overexploitation of its natural resources. But the solution isn’t necessarily to cut the baobab off from international markets. Regulations could be put in place to protect the tree, its environment and the people who depend on it — and still allow for profitable production. The coffee trade provides a model. It’s clear that many consumers are willing to pay more for fairly traded coffee — which costs enough to provide the growers a decent wage for their labor. The baobab’s new popularity is exciting, but the European Union, the United States and African exporters should decide on regulations before the baobab is rushed to European and North American markets.
Knowledge Is Power for Farmers
By Joyce Mulama
NAIROBI, May 16 (IPS) – Following training by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), a hundred farmers in central Kenya, armed with an improved understanding of their local markets are commanding higher prices for their bananas. AGRA, an organisation which unites farmers, research scientists, business and governments to boost productivity and incomes, has been working with the Kamahuha Farmers Group, connecting the farmers with buyers who they communicate with directly using mobile phones.
15 May
LIBERIA: Rural Women Confront Hunger Gap, Their Own Way
The women belong to a local cooperative, Women and Children Development Secretariat (WOCDES), and wake early for the 5-km hike down the dirt road to their farm near Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County, in Liberia’s vast forest region on the Ivorian border. The women’s ‘upland’ rice crop will take up to six months to grow and harvest, and as much as 40 percent of the crop may be lost to birds, groundhogs and other vermin. Meanwhile, the farm’s ‘lowland’ or swamp area, which is naturally irrigated, is reserved for introducing one hectare of rice breeder seed called Nerica. Short for ‘New Rice for Africa’, Nerica is an Asian-African hybrid, which is heavily touted by Liberia’s Ministry of Agriculture for its short three-month growth period and, according to a United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) study, it has a 25 percent increase in yield over non-hybrid strains.
13 January 2009
New soil map for African farmers
The first detailed digital soil map of sub-Saharan Africa is to be created.
The £12m project will offer farmers in 42 countries a “soil health diagnosis” and advice on improving crop yields.
Scientists from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) will take soil samples from across the continent and analyse nutrient levels.
These will be combined with satellite data to build a high-resolution map, to be disseminated freely to poor farmers by local extension workers.
The interactive online map, known as the African Soil Information Service (AfSIS), will be accompanied by advice on how to tackle soil deficient in nutrients.
It is the first stage of project to build a global digital map – called GlobalSoilMap.net – covering 80% of the world’s soils.
The initial four-year programme is being funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra).
19 June 2008
Gulf Eyes “Oil-For-Food” Deal With Neighbours
DUBAI – Recent attempts by Gulf countries to invest in farmlands abroad to counter soaring inflation and guarantee long-term food security could prove to be a win-win situation in the short-term for both the oil-rich region and its investment-hungry neighbours, but continued high oil prices may neutralise the gains in the long-run, feel experts.
5 June

Food Is Gold, So Billions Invested in Farming
( NYT The Food Chain) Huge investment funds have already poured hundreds of billions of dollars into booming financial markets for commodities like wheat, corn and soybeans. But a few big private investors are starting to make bolder and longer-term bets that the world’s need for food will greatly increase — by buying farmland, fertilizer, grain elevators and shipping equipment.
One has bought several ethanol plants, Canadian farmland and enough storage space in the Midwest to hold millions of bushels of grain.
Another is buying more than five dozen grain elevators, nearly that many fertilizer distribution outlets and a fleet of barges and ships.
And three institutional investors, including the giant BlackRock fund group in New York, are separately planning to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in agriculture, chiefly farmland, from sub-Saharan Africa to the English countryside.
“It’s going on big time,” said Brad Cole, president of Cole Partners Asset Management in Chicago, which runs a fund of hedge funds focused on natural resources. “There is considerable interest in what we call ‘owning structure’ — like United States farmland, Argentine farmland, English farmland — wherever the profit picture is improving.”
These new bets by big investors could bolster food production at a time when the world needs more of it.,The investors plan to consolidate small plots of land into more productive large ones, to introduce new technology and to provide capital to modernize and maintain grain elevators and fertilizer supply depots. But the long-term implications are less clear. Some traditional players in the farm economy, and others who study and shape agriculture policy, say they are concerned these newcomers will focus on profits above all else, and not share the industry’s commitment to farming through good times and bad. By owning land and other parts of the agricultural business, these new investors are freed from rules aimed at curbing the number of speculative bets that they and other financial investors can make in commodity markets. Grain elevators, especially, could give these investors new ways to make money, because they can buy or sell the actual bushels of corn or soybeans, rather than buying and selling financial derivatives that are linked to those commodities. When crop prices are climbing, holding inventory for future sale can yield higher profits than selling to meet current demand, for example. Or if prices diverge in different parts of the world, inventory can be shipped to the more profitable market.
The executives making such bets say that fears about their new role are unfounded, and that their investments will be a plus for farming and, ultimately, for consumers. Calyx Agro, a division of the giant Louis Dreyfus Commodities, is buying tens of thousands of acres of cropland in Brazil with the backing of big institutional investors, including AIG Investments.
Emergent Asset Management, based near London, is raising $450 million to $750 million to invest in farmland in sub-Saharan Africa, where it plans to consolidate small plots into more productive holdings and introduce better equipment. Emergent also plans to provide clinics and schools for local labor. One crop and a source of fuel for farming operations will be jatropha, an oil-seed plant useful for biofuels that is grown in sandy soil unsuitable for food production. The fund chose Africa because “land values are very, very inexpensive, compared to other agriculture-based economies,” she said. “Its microclimates are enticing, allowing a range of different crops. There’s accessible labor. And there’s good logistics — wide open roads, good truck transport, sea transport.”
3 June 2008
About Farmers, Without Farmers
ROME, Jun 3 (IPS) – Record high food prices and their impact on poor countries will dominate the three-day UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) summit of world leaders that opened Tuesday in Rome. But the solutions to the food crisis cannot be left to governments only, according to several small farmers groups running a parallel civil society food forum.
8 May
Food Crisis Linked to Doha Deal
By Aileen Kwa
GENEVA, May 8 (IPS) – The issue of rising food prices was raised at the WTO’s General Council meeting Wednesday, and for the first time, discussed in some detail. But there remains, as one African delegate put it, “a lot of confusion about the rising prices of commodities and the Doha Round. Somebody needs to demystify the links. The D-G (Director-General) is using this as a bait to catch us on concluding the Round as soon as possible.”
May 2008
The African Green Revolution (Extended version)
The continent is overdue for an agricultural boon like the one that lifted Asia’s prospects
Jeffrey Sachs
(Scientific American) Africa needs a green revolution. Food yields on the continent are roughly one metric ton of grain per hectare of cultivated land, a figure little changed from 50 years ago and roughly one third of the yields achieved in the rest of the world. In low-income regions elsewhere in the world, including China and India, the introduction of high-yield seeds, fertilizer and small-scale irrigation boosted food productivity beginning in the mid-1960s and opened the escape route from extreme poverty for huge populations. A similar takeoff in sub-Saharan Africa is both an urgent priority and a real possibility.

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