Seeds of Hope–TIME/Africa’s Lagging Development–NPR

The Gates and Rockefeller
Foundations are

efforts to increase agricultural production across Africa. This

require multiple
changes, writes Christine Gorman in TIME.
Slide cursor over map to enlarge.

I will always remember watching women draw water from an open well in northern Senegal, lift plastic tubs on their heads and trek into the distance to water small gardens planted in desert land. It seemed an exercise in futility.

But if your survival depends upon it, you do it.

I thought it the highest form of optimism to expect gardens to grow in the depleted topsoil that was lifted from Morocco and Mauritania and deposited in Senegal and Mali, among other desertifying countries. The soil was mostly sand, or hard and compacted like cement. But hope springs eternal.

I saw a black, roiling cloud quickly approaching the horizon. It looked like a ferocious Oklahoma thunderstorm. We ran for the car, but the winds got to us before we got to the car. It was common in the region. Strong desert winds pick up soil and move it about, changing the landscape. The phrase shifting sands means exactly that. I remember this dust storm because a Nikon camera I was carrying never worked quite as fluidly again. Even with factory cleaning, the dust penetrated the body and scarred parts so they ground and scraped.

In Seeds of Hope in TIME, Christine Gorman writes an excellent overview of conditions today and explains how the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations hope to improve agriculture in Africa with multiple inputs. As Gorman notes, damaged land is approaching a point of no return. And women, who perform the bulk of agricultural work must be empowered with fertilizers, seeds, tools and training.

In a complementary five-part series on NPR, correspondent Jason Beaubien reviews Africa’s lagging development. Beaubien explains how agricultural policies in the developed world, primarily subsidies to farmers, undercut prices for locally grown food and dairy products in Africa. He also tells how subsidies for cotton make it impossible for African farmers to grow and sell their crop on the decidedly un-level global playing field.

Sometimes I get impatient with the claim that the poor could improve their economic condition if they would just work harder or the defeatism that says Africa is beyond our ability to change.

Gorman’s work demonstrates that change can happen but the carrying capacity of the continent in many places is rapidly approaching a depleted state. Africans need resources urgently. And Beaubien’s series tells us that it isn’t inexorable forces that shut African farmers out. It’s human-created agricultural and trade policies. If we in the developed world were to advocate for policy changes toward the developing world and were successful, we could have a positive effect on the poor in Africa. In sum, both pieces give us a glimpse of how life could be different for Africans with the appropriate resources and constructive partnerships.

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