Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Why Africa’s not about to experience a ‘green revolution’ soon

PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | FILE Dominic Sanganyi, a small scale farmer at Kiplombe in Eldoret weeds his maize crop.

PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | FILE Dominic Sanganyi, a small scale farmer at Kiplombe in Eldoret weeds his maize crop. The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (Kari) has allayed fears that a new high yielding insect-pest protected maize variety is genetically modified.  NATION MEDIA GROUP

By Isiah Esipisu
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Poor communication between the agriculture, environment and agroforestry sectors will keep Africa waiting for a “green revolution” a little longer.

The Green Revolution, which started in Asian countries in the 1960s, involved a change in the pattern of crop production and intensive use of chemical inputs such as inorganic fertilisers to boost yields. As a result, erstwhile poor countries are to this day exporting cereals to the rest of the world.

So, for food production to increase in Africa, an integrated approach is required.

In the face of climate change, the agricultural sector must work hand in hand with the environment sector, and most importantly, with the agroforestry sector. This should be supplemented with soil fertility management, research on pests and insects, and use of technology.

ELUSIVE UNITY

But this desired unity of purpose remains elusive. For example, for the past 19 years, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has been bringing together climate change experts, policy-makers on the environment, and other players worldwide to negotiate a way forward.

During the negotiations, the experts usually come up with recommendations on how countries can adapt and mitigate the impact of climate change. Yet most of the recommendations can only be implemented by the agriculture and energy sectors which are passively involved in the negotiations.

According to Mr Ayalneh Bogale, the adviser on climate change and agriculture for the African Union Commission, this is not the way to go to achieve a green revolution.

At the legislation level, before any international negotiations on climate change take place, African ministers usually meet under the umbrella of African Ministerial Conference on the Environment to agree on a common position.

Unfortunately, this forum does not involve law-makers from the energy and agriculture sectors.

African ministers also meet under the Conference for African Ministers for Agriculture, another important forum that locks out environment policy-makers.

The agroforestry sector remains orphaned because many countries do not have national policies to govern the sector. But studies have shown that with limited resources for chemical farm inputs in Africa, particular tree species can be used as a substitute for some fertilisers.

Discussing his findings at the recent World Congress on Agroforestry, Mr Anthony Kimaro, a researcher with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), shared the evidence that sufficient nitrogen was transferred from leguminous trees to crops.

TIME TO SIT TOGETHER

That is why Dr George Oduor, a senior scientist at CAB International believes that Africa will not achieve the green revolution without maximum use of agroforestry, appropriate technology and integrated soil management practices.

In that regard, Kenya is lucky to be hosting important bodies that represent all the three sectors – environment, agroforestry and agriculture, which have made tremendous progress in their respective areas, though in isolation.

The ICRAF, headquartered in Nairobi is the world epicentre for research on the diverse roles that trees play in agricultural landscapes.

The United Nations Environment Programme (Unep), also headquartered in Nairobi, acts as a catalyst, advocate, educator and facilitator to promote the wise use and sustainable development of the global environment.

On the agricultural front, the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), chaired by Mr Kofi Annan is also headquartered in Nairobi. Unfortunately, it is rarely involved in the environmental negotiation forums such as the Conference of Parties, which discusses the way forward on climate change.

The time has come for Mr Achim Steiner, the Unep head, Dr Tony Simons, the ICRAF director-general and Ms Jane Karuku, the president for AGRA to sit together and strategise on how they can work together with related government ministries, because they hold the key to the much-awaited green revolution in Africa.

Mr Esipisu is a consultant and a journalist specialising on agriculture and environment. ([email protected])

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