Ending Africa’s Hunger

Soil fertility funding fertilizer seems unimpeachable

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Unformatted text preview: ilizer seems unimpeachable. A closer examination of the data raises some troubling questions, though. It isn’t clear whether it was the fertilizer or the rain that caused yields to increase. Worse yet, according to sources in Malawi, hunger has not abated at anywhere near the levels believed by the international development community. Indeed, there’s reason to think that fertilizer subsidies may render societies more vulnerable to famine. Roland Bunch, a former agronomist at World Neighbors and author of Two Ears of Corn, a handbook on people-centered agricultural development, explains the problem. “The indirect effects of subsidized fertilizer are that farmers stop amending their soils with organic matter because it is easier to apply fertilizer. When the subsidies dry up—as they invariably do—farmers are left with soils that are so inert that they can’t even grow a good green manure to restore fertility. At that point, with neither chemical fertilizer nor green manures being feasible, we could easily witness a famine across Africa like nothing we have ever seen before.” This is a concern echoed on the ground. Rachel Bezner Kerr, a professor at the University of Western Ontario, has been working in Malawi for more than a decade. She says that Malawi’s fertilizer subsidies are “masking food security problems for the long term.” Bezner Kerr works with a project in Malawi that takes a different approach to soil health by relying on local farmer experimenters. One village headman has, for instance, encouraged his village to adopt ecological agriculture, which not only improves yields but produces a diverse diet that has improved the health of the community’s children, at a fraction of the cost of Gates’s genetically engineered nutrition projects. Much like push-pull, the result of that project, which spread to more than 7,000 households, is that families—and the soil—are better off. When asked about how AGRA affects projects like hers, Bezner Kerr says, “When farmers get vouchers [for fertilizer], they wonder, Why incorporate crop residues? If AGRA is putting all that money into fertilizer, it is taking away from efforts like ours.” Like Bunch, she’s concerned about the economic as well as the environmental sustainability of fertilizer giveaways. “What happens when AGRA leaves?” she asks. 21 “JAW-DROPPING . . . It reads like a thriller.” — NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF, THE NEW YORK TIMES “Angler could well turn out to be the most revealing account of Cheney’s activities as vice president that ever gets written.” — JAMES MANN, THE WASHINGTON POST NOW IN PAPERBACK WITH A NEW AFTERWORD A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER PENGUIN BOOKS A member of Penguin Group (USA) www.penguin.com Fleisher’s is coming to the big city 22 The Nation. Is Bill Gates Africa’s Latest Strongman? T he Gates Foundation responds to criticism of its funding decisions by saying that it is learning all the time, with a state-of-the-art system...
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This note was uploaded on 11/26/2012 for the course MATH 2313 taught by Professor Staff during the Spring '08 term at Texas El Paso.

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