22) Scientific Innovations will Trigger Green Revolution in Africa

Scientific innovations can help bring about Africa’s Green Revolution. The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), headquartered in Patancheru near Hyderabad in southern India, is working with other institutions in the global initiative to bring about a green revolution in the drylands of sub-Saharan Africa.

Speaking at an international conference titled Israel and the Green Revolution in Africa held on 1 June in Jerusalem, and addressing politicians, policy makers, scientists and other distinguished participants, Dr William D Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, said, “I am certain that MASHAV and ICRISAT can provide critical leadership in this Revolution, particularly in the dry areas, which are our bread and butter.” The drylands cover about 40% of Africa’s arable landmass, and about 25% of Africa’s populations live and work in these areas. According to the United Nations Human Development Index these areas cover most of the poorest nations on earth, and the farmers here earn less than one US dollar a day.

“African governments need to be more supportive of their rural poor, “ Dr Dar added, “They need to adopt policies that encourage, rather than penalize agriculture. Developed countries need to break with their past habits of huge subsidies to domestic farmers that create unfair competition with the poor in the developing world.”

Rising food prices hurt the rural poor, and the rising cost of fertilizer, essential for increasing food production, is a double blow. In this context, Dr Dar cited the scientific innovations that ICRISAT and partners are mobilizing to help bring about Africa’s Green Revolution. Methods such as microdosing and planting-basin cultivation can deliver three dollars worth of extra gain for each dollar’s worth of extra fertilizer when combined with the use of improved crop cultivars. “We need the support of donors and the leadership of the countries themselves to roll this out on a large scale.” said Dr Dar. ICRISAT is also screening over a hundred tree and vegetable crop varieties to help African farmers identify horticultural crops that can diversify the production system and increase incomes.

Drought and heat waves will increase with climate change in the coming years, and farmers need to prepare now by saving water to be used sparingly to overcome these situations. Drip irrigation greatly increases the efficiency of water use. ICRISAT and partners have promoted more than 2,500 small-scale drip irrigation market gardens in four countries of Africa, which raised incomes 5 to 7 times. Immediate funding to gear up ongoing seed multiplication and the expansion of tree nurseries is also required stated Dr Dar.

For farmers with no irrigation potential and limited market access, ICRISAT has been developing Dryland Ecofarm systems that are crop-tree-vegetable-livestock systems that focus on rainwater harvesting. Besides reducing climatic and market risks by half, these systems can be used to bio-reclaim degraded lands.

Given Israel’s historic agricultural expertise, Dr Dar suggested five priorities for the Israeli research and development community – (1) develop and disseminate high-value horticulture crops; (2) build entrepreneurial capacity of African farmers; (3) hydrological surveys and irrigation feasibility studies, with attention to sustainability; (4) new irrigation facilities based on drip-irrigation; and (5) develop or rehabilitate seasonal dams to capture surface rainwater and raise water tables.

For every $1 invested in international agricultural research, $9 worth of additional food is produced in developing countries where it is needed most, concluded Dr Dar.

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