A recent Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) report revealed that today, over 821 million people are hungry and almost all sub-regions of Africa are experiencing an increase in undernourishment. Climate change is worsening the issue by causing an imbalance in conditions, particularly in regions where crops are sensitive to rainfall and changing temperatures. Consequently, as the global climate changes, the issue of food stress is exacerbated meaning even more people go hungry.
If the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal of ‘zero hunger’ is to be achieved by 2030, as its objectives outline, major action must be undertaken to build and maintain farming systems that are resilient against changing climate conditions. However, although agriculture is the backbone of many economies across Africa, accounting for approximately a quarter of annual GDP in Kenya for example, major areas such as the Sahara, do not have the best farming conditions. The quality of soil is notoriously poor here meaning that the average crop yield is the lowest in the world. Yet, if these conditions can be addressed and managed, increasing crop yields can reduce hunger and drive prosperity, lifting currently deprived areas out of poverty whilst also improving education and community health.
However, this is a complex challenge that requires creativity and innovation. For instance, many of Africa’s rural farmers pay high prices for fertilizer as it is imported and yet not designed for the soil in this region. The high price of fertilizer adds to the cost of food production for small-scale subsistence farmers, driving them into a vicious cycle of poverty. Samuel Rigu, founder of Safi Organics is helping to address this problem by providing Africa’s rural farmers with an alternative fertilizer that is locally produced and tailored to the African soil, all at a lower cost.
Having previously been a farmer, Rigu came up with a solution that turns waste chaff into an organic conditioner that benefits the soil whilst producing better harvests. He buys rice husks, maize combs and other agricultural waste from local rice producers and burns it with a mixture of ingredients to create a charcoal which can be used as fertilizer. The Safi Sarvi fertilizer improves crop yields by reducing soil acidity - allowing farmers to grow more with less fertilizer. It also increases nutrient holding, improves soil retention and reduces the pollutants in run-off, among other benefits. Rigu’s idea has earned him several accolades including the Total Startupper of the Year award 2016 and second place in the MIT Food and Agribusiness Innovation Prize.
Another example of farming innovation that is helping address hunger in sub-Saharan Africa is TruTrade, a social enterprise that provides smallholder farmers with a reliable route to market and fair prices for their produce.
Through its web and mobile-enabled platform, TruTrade brings together the supply power of tens of thousands of smallholder farmers to meet the demand of local, regional and internationals buyers, increasing farmer incomes by integrating them into sustainable value chains.
In providing the logistics to link farmers to buyers, combined with immediate digital payments to farmers, TruTrade ensures food supply meets demand whilst also allowing the buyers to trace the source of the crops they are purchasing.
In 2004 the then UN secretary general Kofi Annan called for a “uniquely African green revolution” focused on the improvement of agricultural productivity through the replenishment of soil fertility, the promotion of human nutrition, improved market access and more environmentally sustainable practices and enabling policies. Since then, efforts have been made to improve the infrastructure needed to improve farming productivity in order to feed these African nations. The results of these efforts have begun to generate results. For instance, across sub-Saharan Africa, cereal grain yields grew by 50% between 2005 and 2013, an increase for the first time since records began. In addition, 17 African countries have already achieved the Hunger Millennium Development Goal of halving the number of people who suffer from undernutrition by 2015, including the two most populated nations, Nigeria and Ethiopia.
The importance of addressing global hunger has led to the emergence of a number of pioneering organisations leading the fight against poverty and starvation. However, more needs to be done if we are to achieve the UN’s goal of “zero hunger” by 2030. Innovation is the key to solving major global issues such as this and therefore governments from all over the world should be encouraged to inspire, identify and nurture ideas such as Safi Organics and TruTrade, in order to help achieve greater prosperity for those who currently suffer the most.
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