Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Everything You Know About African Agriculture is WRONG

African food production is declining, the landscape is blighted and efforts to bring about improvements are doomed to failure. So goes the cynical and one might say conventional view outside of Africa, to which Jules Pretty of the University of Essex responds to with one, emphatic word: WRONG!

“There is this assumption that African agriculture is not performing and it’ s just not true,” he said. “There are per capita problems in keeping food production in line with population growth, but there are regions where over the last few decades Africa has outperformed the world and particularly Europe.”

During his presentation at Forum for Agricultural Research for Africa (FARA) 5th African Agriculture Science Week, underway now in Burkina Faso, Pretty provided a revealing visual experiment.

He showed a slide that on one side had a satellite picture of a large swath of the African Sahel region depicting a landscape completely denuded of trees next to another showing a sparkle of green across the same area. He said the conventional view of Africa is so deeply imbedded in many people’s minds that they automatically assume the deforested area is the recent picture. But in fact it is the opposite.

The picture of deforestation is from 1975 while the other is from 2005 showing what he called the new “greenwall of the Sahel.”

Pretty said his point is that “there is a lot of good stuff happening” in Africa and while there are of course considerable challenges, there are in many regions a strong foundation for progress. But he said the measures of success often used do not always capture all accomplishments

For example, he presented the results of series of 40 projects in 20 countries involving 10 million farmers undertaken by the United Kingdom’s Foresight Africa program that targeted a range of agriculture activities. He said by the most common measure, yield increases, the overall performance of the projects is strong, with yields roughly doubling over the last few years.

“But that misses an awful lot of stuff,” he said. “If a project puts more fish in a fish pond, that’s not picked up by changes in cereal yields.” He also pointed to a project in Uganda focused on a new variety of orange-fleshed sweet potato that matures relatively quickly, allowing for two plantings per year. It doesn’t change the overall yield, Pretty said, but going from one to two plantings per year is major progress.

He said the important point is that across Africa, many efforts to innovate are “working well.”
“We want to replicate that kind of innovation and one can be fairly confident that is possible,” he said.


  1. Thanks for setting up this blog. It's useful to help keep updated witht the goings on at the FARA Science week. But could we also have a more personal and 'live' feel of the goings-on as well. Some photos and short interview video clips would help.

  2. Thanks! We really appreciate the feedback. Expect more content, including photos and videos over the next few days.

  3. Great! I see you've already uploaded some pix and video. Keep the blog posts flowing. Thanks


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