Stories tagged: fertilizers

Book Review: “Enough: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty”


Two veteran Wall Street Journal reporters, Roger Thurow and Scott Kilman, have teamed up to write a book addressing one of the most pressing questions of the 21st-century: global hunger.

The authors ask why hunger persists when the technology and tools already exist to feed the world:

Since the time of the Green Revolution, the world has known how to end famine and tame chronic hunger.  We have the information and tools.  But we haven’t done it.  We explored the heavens.  We wired the world for the Internet…. Yet somehow we haven’t eliminated the most primitive scourge of all.

In the opening chapters, Kilman and Thurow introduce the work of Norman Borlaug, a Nobel Prize-winning plant scientist who died on Saturday at the age of 95.  Back in the 1940s, Borlaug was assigned to a newly launched research centre in Mexico to train Mexican scientists how to boost farm productivity through plant breeding experiments.

Over the next two decades, Borlaug’s research helped boost wheat yields in the research areas almost seven-fold, from 11 bushels per acre in the early 1940s to as much as seventy-five bushels per acre in 1960.  Borlaug then travelled elsewhere in the Americas and across to Asia to demonstrate the potential yields which these new varieties could produce and to convince policymakers and farmers to adopt them to feed their growing populations.  (Apparently, the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ripped up her flower garden to plant the new wheat varieties.)

And thus, the Green Revolution was born.  Demographic projections of mass famine and a population implosion were prevented, and the global supply of food exploded.

Yet around the same time, shifts in global agricultural policy began to shift.  Starting in the early 1980s, newly independent former colonies in Africa and Asia started to see a reversal in the foreign assistance being given to agricultural development (inputs, infrastructure, extension training, and research support).  In addition, the money being targeted at the alleviation of hunger came in the food of foreign-grown food aid shipped into areas of need.

A generation later, in the summer of 2008, the world went through a global food crisis where prices doubled and tripled for many staple foods and global reserve stocks of grain were reduced to dangerously low levels.  Kilman and Thurow argue that the time is right for a broad reinvestment into agriculture, similar to how the United States rallied to support the Marshall Plan for Europe in the aftermath of World War II.

The authors argue that public sentiment is in favour of increased support to feed the hungry, and social and political stability are increasingly under threat from those without sufficient resources to subsist.  They present a range of options, from investment in infrastruture and new seed technologies to policy reforms relating to how national budgets are allocated and how trade regulations are drawn up.

Africa is a particular target as it is seen as “the world’s final frontier of agriculture” where yields are still low and modern agricutural practices are often non-existent.  Coupled with a rapidly increasingly population, African farmers will be expected to double their production by 2030 in order to simply meet their own people’s food demands.  This will be no small feat, and it would require a coordinated, collaborative approach to see it through successfully.

Farming First Welcomes International Plant Nutrition Institute to its Supporters

1110092v1v1The International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI) has become the newest supporter of Farming First.

According to its website, IPNI is:

a not-for-profit, science-based organization with a focus on agronomic education and research support…. The mission of IPNI is to develop and promote scientific information about the responsible management of plant nutrition for the benefit of the human family.

IPNI has a global presence with programmes in China, India, Southeast Asia, Northern Latin America, Brazil, Latin America-Southern Cone, the United States, and Canada, plus a new presence in Eastern Europe and Central Asia and soon to be in Australia.

Its initiatives address the world’s growing need for food, fuel, fiber, and feed as well as global issues such as climate change and the relationship of crop production to the environment and ecosystems.

FANRPAN and Gates Foundation Announce 3-year Project for Rural African Women Farmers

The Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), led by Farming First’s Dr. Lindiwe Sibanda, has announced a three-year pilot project to help women farmers in Southern Africa influence agricultural policy development.

The programme has been funded by a $900,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and will be presented at the annual FANRPAN Regional Policy Dialogue and Annual General Meeting held in Maputo, Mozambique in September 2009.

The pilot projects will be based in Malawi and Mozambique and will help to amplify the voices of women farmers in policy decisions at the national and regional levels.  These projects will also then help women access the tools and technologies — such as better seeds, adequate fertilizer, extension services, and access to credit — that these realigned markets will provide.

FANRPAN’s involvement across 13 Southern African countries will help it to partner with other Gates Foundation grantees to create deeper linkages within the communities where their pilot projects will take place.  The lessons learned from these pilots will then be incorporated and extended into programmes for other Southern and East African countries.

Green Revolution Advocate Calls for Policy Shift to Help Farmers Feed the World

A recent commentary piece by Norman Borlaug in the Wall Street Journal explains how empowering farmers can help them feed the world and improve their own livelihoods.

Borlaug, a Texas professor and winner of the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize, helped drive the first green revolution in countries such as Mexico and India by increasing the development and access to technologies which help boost farmers’ productivity.

In his article, Borlaug praises the recent decisions of world leaders to begin “focusing on growing food versus giving it away” as a “giant step forward”.  He argues that farmers, especially those in developing countries, need better and more inputs such as better seed and fertilizer:

Given the right tools, farmers have shown an uncanny ability to feed themselves and other, and to ignite the economic engine that will reverse the cycle of chronic poverty.  And the escape from poverty offers a chance for greater political stability in their countries as well.

Doubling food production over the next half century to meet global demand will be made even more difficult with a fixed or shrinking supply of land, he argues, as well as the present and future impacts of climate change.

New IFPRI study: “Fertilizer Subsidies in Africa: Are Vouchers the Answer?”

2185913128_ceed4d1bd9A new study released by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) – “Fertlizer Subsidies in Africa: Are Vouchers the Answer?” – looks at the efficacy of providing fertilizer vouchers for African farmers to improve their livelihoods and the productivity of their crops.

The findings discuss the fact that the impact which fertilizer subisidies have depends on existing farmer knowledge and the external conditions of the local area.  The best justifications for these subsidies are when farmers are unfamiliar with the benefits of fertilizer or are too poor to purchase it themselves, or when there is demonstrated profitability to be had and a sufficient distribution network for accessing those being targeted.

The authors review both sides of the debate and argue for “smart” subsidies, which do not undercut the development of efficient, broad markets and target the areas where the most benefit can be found.

Nonethless, African farmers still use on average only about one-seventh the amount of fetilizer that other developing countries use.  And, the recent successes of Malawi’s input subsidy programme (watch the Farming First interview with the coordinator of this programme here) have made the subject of fertlizer vouchers and greater agricultural support a new priority for many African governments.


Minot, N., and T. Benson. 2009. Fertilizer subsidies in Africa: Are vouchers the answer? Issue Brief 60. Washington, DC: International Food Policy Research Institute.

Farming First’s Ajay Vashee Discusses Obama, Agriculture, and Malawi with Bloomberg

3772343979_c09946289fAfter attending the G8 summit in Italy earlier last week, President Obama immediately flew down to Ghana, in his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa since being elected President.

Obama’s trips to Italy and Ghana both served to demonstrate his public support for an increased focus on the needs of farmers, particularly those without sufficient access to the tools they need to farm efficiently and feed themselves.

In Italy, Obama said:

There is no reason why Africa cannot be self-sufficient when it comes to food.  It has sufficient arable land.  What’s lacking is the right seeds, the right irrigation, but also the kinds of institutional mechanisms that ensure that a farmer is going to be able to grow crops, get them to market, get a fair price.

In a recent Bloomberg article, Farming First’s Ajay Vashee, President of the International Federation of Agricultural Producers (IFAP), discussed the need for African farmers to have better access to the seeds and fertilizers they needed to increase their yields and improve their livelihoods as farmers.

Vashee particularly noted the success of Malawi’s farm input subsidy programme, which has been running for the past five years and which has served as a model for neighboring countries.

The Bloomberg article noted that Tanzania began a fertilizer-subsidy programme last December, that Kenya has announced a similar subsidy plan to boost yields, and that the Ugandan government had increased spending on agriculture by 47 per cent in its latest budget.

In preparation for his trip to Ghana, Obama discussed the role that governments should play in driving progress in African development goals, quoted in a recent Wall Street Journal article:

Countries that are governed well, that are stable, where the leadership recognizes that they are accountable to the people and that institutions are stronger than any one person have a track record of producing results for the people.

In May, Farming First interviewed the coordinator of Malawi’s farm subsidy programme and Principal Economist in the Ministry of Agriculture, Mr. Idrissa Mwale.  Watch the video here:

Watch other videos from Farming First on Vimeo here.