Published on: 15:44PM Nov 16, 2011
By Gilbert Arap Bor: Kapseret, Kenya
The world now has 7 billion people in it but the population growth didn’t stop there. Demographers at the U.N. Population Fund said the big milestone came on the 31st day of October, focusing on a Philippine mother and her new-born. In Kenya, the Daily Nation newspaper highlighted a Kenyan mother and her newborn, also born on the last day of October at Kenyatta National Hospital. That same hospital delivered another five babies that same day, making it six new children added to Kenya’s and the world’s population in just that hospital alone!
The simple fact is that the world population is very large and it will continue to grow. By the 2020s, it will pass 8 billion. By the 2040s, it will top 9 billion.
That’s like adding two Chinas between now and the middle of the century, observes Robert L. Thompson of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
The greatest challenge of our time will be to figure out how we’re going to put food in all of these mouths. Over the next four decades, farmers everywhere will have to boost their production by 70 percent.
African agriculture must play a major role in any viable solution.
Here in Kenya, we understand the dilemma firsthand. We’re adding about a million new people each year--and almost everywhere I go, I see the effects of a population surge. In cities such as Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru, Kisumu, Eldoret, Thika etc; the streets are so crowded it’s getting hard to walk down them. Our urban slums are mushrooming. On the outskirts of cities, real-estate developers are chewing up agricultural land - coffee and tea plantations, turning them into residential estates. What used to be little market centers along the highways have turned into big towns.
Thankfully, Kenya is beginning to take positive steps. Last year, our government approved the commercial planting of GM crops, becoming the fourth African country to do so. (The others are Burkina Faso, Egypt, and South Africa.) This will give our farmers access to one of the world’s most important hunger-fighting tools.
We have far to go, but at least we’re on the right path. We can also draw upon tremendous resources in human capital, from the scientific expertise at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute to the business know-how of the Kenya Seed Company.
Yet every African nation must do more. The continent holds tremendous agricultural potential, if only because its farming is so woefully unproductive right now. On my visits to the United States, I’ve witnessed many of the technologies and practices that could represent a bright future: GM seeds, minimum tillage, conservation agriculture, irrigation, and post-harvest storage. These are some of the practices that contribute to sustainable farming and food security.
Other possibilities include better market access, improving the business environment, reforming governmental policies, promoting high-value crops, and linking local producers to global trade.
In each of these areas, Africa lags. Many farmers remain wedded to primitive forms of agriculture that were hardly adequate in the 20th century and its billions fewer people, to say nothing of the 21st.
Most African farmers have no choice. Their governments follow the misguided and woefully wrong example of European countries that refuse to accept biotechnology. They’re held hostage by scientific illiterates who go to well-paid jobs that require them to raise money by frightening people about biotechnology.
Truth about Trade & Technology, a U.S.-based non-profit group, recently calculated that farmers around the world have planted more than 3 billion acres of GM crops, mostly in North and South America but also in Australia, India, the Philippines, South Africa and elsewhere. This is a remarkable achievement. Until more of Africa transforms it’s agricultural systems by applying science and technology to support an African "green revolution", however, it’s an incomplete one.
At a recent conference in Britain, Dr. Felix M’mobyi of the African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum put the matter bluntly.
"The affluent West has the luxury of choice in the type of technology they use to grow food crops, yet their influence and sensitivities are denying many in the developing world access to such technologies which could lead to a more plentiful food supply," he said. "This kind of hypocrisy and arrogance comes with the luxury of a full stomach."
I hope the Europeans were paying attention to Dr. M’mobyi because their positive leadership on this issue would make it a little easier for African farmers to help feed the billions.
Gilbert Arap Bor grows maize, vegetables and dairy cows on a small-scale farm of 25 acres in Kapseret, near Eldoret, Kenya. Mr. Bor, a lecturer at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa’s Eldoret Campus (Gaba), is a member of the Truth About Trade & Technology Global Farmer Network and was recently honored as the 2011 Kleckner Trade & Technology Advancement Award recipient.
Note: a version of this column first appeared in the November 15 edition of The Wall Street Journal, Opinion Europe.