Wednesday, September 13, 2006

New African Rice Strain Seen As Freeing Children From Time-Consuming Agricultural Work And Allowing Them Opportunities To Attend School

"The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced yesterday that it was teaming with the Rockefeller Foundation to increase agricultural productivity in Africa.

The new program will try to repeat the success of a Rockefeller program that came to be known as the Green Revolution, which greatly increased the production of grains like wheat, corn and rice in Latin America and Southeast Asia beginning in the 1940’s.

The two foundations will make an initial investment of $150 million — $100 million from Gates and $50 million from Rockefeller — to increase access to seeds that produce higher crop yields. That will entail developing new varieties of seeds, training African crop scientists and retooling seed distribution systems.

“Agricultural production per capita has increased everywhere in the world except Africa,” said Dr. Rajiv J. Shah, director of agricultural development and financial services programs at the Gates Foundation. “It’s the one place where production has been declining relative to population.”

The effort is one of the first financed by Gates’s new global development program, which grew out of a 16-month review aimed at determining how to expand the foundation’s operations in ways that complement its work on global health issues and give it new opportunities to spend its money.

Critics of the Green Revolution have condemned it on a variety of grounds, among them that it has had a harmful effect on animal life and the environment with pesticides it has introduced and that it promotes capitalist market systems.

“Narrowly focusing on increasing production — as the Green Revolution does — cannot alleviate hunger because it fails to alter the tightly concentrated distribution of economic power, especially access to land and purchasing power,” Peter M. Rosset wrote in 2000, when he was executive director of Food First/The Institute for Food and Development Policy.

The foundations, apparently mindful of such criticism, are trying to develop a system that will improve financing, access and distribution to and by small farmers....

Various Rockefeller Foundation programs have inspired previous Gates Foundation projects, most notably Rockefeller’s historic focus on public health. In this case, Rockefeller’s investment in improving agriculture in Kenya, where it has an office, served as a starting point. Over the last seven years, Rockefeller has spent roughly $150 million on research to develop new crop varieties, like a type of rice that has proved impervious to weeds, drought and other challenges.

Rockefeller has assessed the effects of the new rice — known as Nerica, for New Rice for Africa — and found a number of benefits. For instance, not only has it increased food supplies and farm incomes, it has also brought better school attendance because the rice’s shorter growth cycle frees children who work in the fields."

Stephanie Strom "2 Foundations Join in Africa Agriculture Push" New York Times September 13, 2006

Tanzanian students applying class-room learning to their practice of community-based, sustainable African agriculture.


"The Agricultural and Environmental Education Project is designed to improve agricultural and environmental education in primary schools in Babati and Hanang districts [of Tanzania].

The main topics are basic crop production, chicken rearing, vegetable gardening and tree management. Pupils share what they learn with their families, making farms more productive and environmentally friendly.

We also encourage increased involvement of poor parents in school management and strengthen the staff's ability to respond to community priorities. At the same time, the project provides materials and training for teachers in a more practical style of teaching called 'discovery learning'. Experiences and successes from the project will be shared with interested groups and key policy makers in Tanzania's education sector."

"Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world. Situated on the eastern coast of Africa, its coastal plains border the Indian Ocean and rise to a central plateau with highlands in both the north (Mount Kilimanjaro) and south. Despite the presence of mineral resources, the economy is heavily dependent on agriculture, employing 80% of the 35 million population. Life expectancy at birth is 44, with rural poverty and the increased prevalence of HIV/AIDS contributing to this low level."

Text and photo credit: Farm Arica. With thanks.



Francis Wamurubu Wants his Children to Stay in School

"Francis Wamurubu has been chosen as buck keeper for the Buwangwa Lower Village Group. He is married with nine children. Francis is very well respected, which is why he was chosen to look after the village's buck.

His children have been going to school on and off over the last few years and he hopes that they will all be able to stay in school and get an education. He is also very keen to improve his home and especially keen on being able to afford a corrugated iron roof as the rains have caused him a lot of problems in the past.

Francis left school in primary six so did not finish his education; he is determined that this will not happen to his children."

"The Republic of Uganda occupies fertile, plateau terrain in East Africa and is classified as a Least Developed Country - ranking 158th out of 174 countries in the UNDP Human Development Index. Life expectancy is only 44 years and recent figures estimate that 600,000 of its 25 million population are living with HIV/AIDS. Thousands of AIDS orphans have also been left behind by their parents' deaths. 86% of the population are rural, earning a living from subsistence agriculture. Farms - averaging 1.3 hectares - are too small to support cattle, so local goats are kept, mainly for meat, due to their low milk yields."

Text credit: Farm Arica.


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