Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Surprise Fact: Africa Alone Can Feed the World?

(Hat tip: the always amusing Peak Energy)

Africa's lost history always leaves me vexing: what could have been had the Europeans not embarked on their infectious colonialism of Mother Earth's tragic continent? Well, it appears Africa's enigmic nature leaves us perplexed in the present, too (link):

DOOM-MONGERS have got it wrong - there is enough space in the world to produce the extra food needed to feed a growing population. And contrary to expectation, most of it can be grown in Africa, say two international reports published this week.

The first, projecting 10 years into the future from last year's food crisis, which saw the price of food soar, says that there is plenty of unused, fertile land available to grow more crops.

"Some 1.6 billion hectares could be added to the current 1.4 billion hectares of crop land [in the world], and over half of the additionally available land is found in Africa and Latin America," concludes the report, compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization

If further evidence were needed, it comes in a second report, launched jointly by the FAO and the World Bank. It concludes that 400 million hectares, straddling 25 African countries, are suitable for farming.

Models for producing new crop land already exist in Thailand, where land originally deemed agriculturally unpromising, due to irrigation problems and infertile soil, has been transformed into a cornucopia by smallholder farmers.

As in Thailand, future success will come by using agriculture to lift Africa's smallholder farmers out of poverty, aided by strong government measures
to guarantee their rights to land, say both reports.

Here's a recent article about Russia's vast, unrealized agricultural potential:

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev this weekend proudly hosted a world grain
forum in his home city of Saint Petersburg, promoting Russia as a major player
in agriculture and warning that hunger remains a global problem.

“In the next 10-15 years we are planning to bring the volume of Russian
grain exports to 40-50 million tons, increasing our share of the global market
to 20 percent,” said Agriculture Minister Yelena Skrynnik.

“Russia is not only about gas, oil and metals. We also have great grain
resources,” she said. Last year, Russia exported 20 million tons out of a total
of 108.4 million tonnes of grain harvested.


Russia has tens of millions of hectares (acres) of chernozem (black earth), a dream soil because of its richness in humus, which is formed by the decomposition of plant matter by micro-organisms. The high humus content gives the soil an ability to retain moisture that makes it perfect for farming. The famous Black Earth region in the southwest of Russia covers an area approximately half the size of Germany.

But the fall of the Soviet Union led to vast tracts of arable land going fallow. Ex-Soviet states have lost 24 million hectares (59.3 million acres) of arable land — three quarters of it in Russia — since 1993, said Dmitry Rylko, head of the Russian Institute for Agricultural Market Studies. He added that by contrast 31 million hectares of arable land had been gained elsewhere in the world. “The Soviet authorities exploited a large part of the arable land but in a completely unproductive way,” he said, adding that the fall of the USSR led to a dramatic decline in demand and support in the sector.

Medvedev said that Russia would now be preparing cultivation of 20 million hectares of farmland that have fallen fallow since the Soviet collapse.

Thanks, Karl Marx, you've certainly helped the world progress nicely. Dmitry Orlov must have a bust of you on his mantle.

- Brewskie

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