Agriculture, biotechnology and quest to avert hunger in Africa
By Mohammed Kandi
In the recent times, the ever-increasing world population has become a major threat to humanity, even as quest to achieving food security particularly in Africa, is hitherto a mirage considering the proportion of those who go to bed on empty stomach across the globe.
Going by the recent and shocking statistics by experts that world population would rise to a disquieting 9 billion people by 2050, and that nearly one billion go to bed hungry daily, there is urgent need especially in Africa, to begin to utilize and expand the myriads ofagricultural potentials domiciled in the continent’s rich soil.
Apparently, Africa has the greatest agricultural potentials with about 900 million hectares of arable land unutilized, coupled with availability of manpower- majority of the people are young, energetic and capable overturning the economic fortune for better, yet for somesocio-political reasons its always last when it comes to accepting best technologies that could fastrack development.
These possibilities are however susceptible to an array of environmental and human induced challenges such as lost of fertile lands to desertification, erosion, large crop lost to pests, low yields due to soil degradation and the application of inorganic fertilizer and other chemical compounds. On the other hand, there is increase hunger and diseases associated with malnutrition.
Again, scientists at the American Association for the Advancement of Science have in various studies shown that, the carbon sink capacity of the world’s agricultural and degraded soils is 50 to 66% of the historic carbon loss of 42 to 78 gigatons of carbon. The rate of soil organic carbon sequestration with adoption of recommended technologies depends on soil texture and structure, rainfall, temperature, farming system, and soil management.
They said strategies to increase the soil carbon pool include soil restoration and woodland regeneration, no-till farming, cover crops, nutrient management, manuring and sludge application, improved grazing, water conservation and harvesting, efficient irrigation, agroforestry practices, and growing energy crops on spare lands.
In their analysis, an increment of 1 ton of soil carbon pool of degraded cropland soil may increase crop yield by 20 to 40 kilograms per hectare (kg/ha) for wheat, 10 to 20 kg/ha for maize, and 0.5 to 1 kg/ha for cowpeas. As well as enhancing food security, carbon sequestration has the potential to offset fossilfuel emissions by 0.4 to 1.2 gigatons of carbon per year, or 5 to 15% of the global fossil-fuel emissions.
Nonetheless, what Africa needs at this point in time to transform its agricultural system and provide food for its swarming population and the rest of the world, by adopting newest technologies, apt and timely decisions, vibrant government policies and legislations and thepolitical will to leverage on its God-given potentials that no continents has.
Like what obtains in the developed societies in agricultural development, it has become imperative for the entire African countries to adopt biosciences in their farming system. Bioscience projects has proven to be best available methods that have been used to improve crop productivity and food security, and boost agricultural resilience to climate change-related impacts in most parts of Africa, where it has been implemented.
Scientists have at different forums emphasized on the need for the continent to maximizing biosciences which could bring about socioeconomic transformation. For instance, in Uganda, tannery and slaughter wastes are being turned into manure for crop production and clean water. Other innovations include the production of drought-resistant seed varieties that are suitable to specific agriecological areas.
Similarly, an Oxford Scientist, Professor Chris Leaver, disclosed recently at a Media Fellowship Workshop organised by the Biosciences for Farming in Africa (B4FA) in Abuja, that agriculture biotechnologywas the best option to averting food and nutritional crises, especially, in sub-Saharan Africa where hunger and malnutrition hasbecome a major threat to the attainment of food security.
Leaver was particularly concern about how fast Africa can adopt the huge potentials in agriculture biotechnologies, using the Genetically Modifying (GM) crops to boost some topical crops such as rice, sweet potato, cassava and corn.
Also speaking at the workshop, Sir Brian Heap, President, European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC), expressed concern about low yield of Africa’s cereals in particular over the last sixty to hundred years.
He said: “The question is, can we find a method of helping to increase the yield of cereals. One of the ways of doing this of course, is to use a more intensive agriculture but that of course has risk because it has an effect on the environment and it can have a negative effect on the environment by the overuse of fertilized chemicals, an alternative will be to up ways in which we can introduce genes into ploughs that will increase the yield and that is the area of particular interest because it might help to reduce the amount of chemicals that you used to increase production.”
“So, that is why biotechnology has significance to yield and the other potential is the possibility that you can introduce genes that improves the nutritive value of the plant. So you might be able to introduce the vitamin, the improved vitamin that will actually enablepeople, in particular the children who eat the grain or the rice in this case help to get a high level of vitamin A,” Heap explained.
Furthermore, promoting maximum application of biotechnology in agriculture would provide a soothing relief to especially the small-holder farmers who are always worried about recording poor yield and disease burden crops.
In the mean time, there is the need for the entire African countries to harness the ongoing biosciences projects on the continent for improved crop productivity, as well as, addressing climate changeadaptability; food and nutrition security; energy production from industrial waste; and securing freshwater resources.