Tag Archives: Calestous Juma

Is the US now a legitimate player in Africa?

President Obama wrapped up his tour of sub-Saharan Africa. His $7 billion initiative to increase electricity access in the region called Power Africa was the biggest news from the visit. Some saw the move as a rebuff to China who has been spending more and more money on building roads, bridges and ports in sub-Saharan Africa.

Harvard professor Calestous Juma disagrees. The Kenyan agriculture academic says the trip is about asserting the US as a legitimate player in the region.

African leaders have set their own development priorities, and Obama’s messages were aligned with their aspirations. The challenge is to bring all of Africa in the spirit of the African Union around the table with President Obama to chart an equally practical way forward.

Africa’s global interests are shifting from relief programs and relations on raw material exports to domestic capability, development and trade. U.S. government programs such as the Feed the Future which emphasize the need for Africa to feed itself offer new cooperation models.

In this spirit, perhaps aid programs such as PEPFAR (the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) should include joint venture initiatives that involve the shift of pharmaceutical production to Africa. The continent’s next frontier of engagement with the rest of the world will increasingly involve such joint ventures.


Bean farmer Congo

Don’t be too quick to dismiss organic farming for Africa

By Lisa Stiffler, special correspondent

A bean farmer tends her crop in DR Congo

One of the world’s leading advocates of the need for agricultural reform in Africa, speaking in Seattle earlier this week, said organic farming methods are already being used by poor farmers and they aren’t working. Organic farming cannot alone meet our planet’s food needs was the message.

Organic farming has lots of benefits: It doesn’t require expensive and possibly toxic pesticides; it emphasizes natural practices to build richer soils over a heavy reliance on chemical fertilizers; and it grows food that’s arguably healthier.

But when you consider that one in seven people worldwide will go to bed tonight hungry, it does seem fair to ask: Can organic deliver the goods for the developing world?

New research says yes – but not everywhere and not for everything.

“This is not an argument that organic can or cannot feed the world,” said John Reganold, regents professor of Soil Science and Agroecology at Washington State University in Pullman. “No one system can feed the world.”

A recent study in the journal Nature sought to answer the question of whether organic farming could match the output of conventional agriculture. The researchers, who did not include Reganold, compiled 316 comparisons of crops grown both ways and found that in developed nations, organic practices returned 20 percent less produce. The spread increases to 25 percent when data from developing nations are included.

But in a follow-up letter published in Nature this week, Reganold notes that the difference in yields between organic and conventional farming varies greatly between crops.  For some fruits there was only a 3 percent yield difference in the farming practices, but the spread was more than 33 percent for certain vegetables.

The answer, then, to the organic-versus-conventional debate is clear as mud.

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Calestous Juma says Africa CAN feed itself, and the world, by harnessing new science

Calestous Juma is a funny guy.

Calestous Juma, center, jokes with one of his leading critics, Phil Bereano, at left

The Harvard University professor of international development is author of The New Harvest, a book (free online) in which he makes his case for how agricultural reforms offer the most promise for positively transforming African economies.

Juma spoke Tuesday at the University of Washington’s Kane Hall at an event sponsored by the World Affairs Council. Outside the event, protesters from the local organization AGRA Watch handed out leaflets challenging his views — which also were challenged in a Q&A after his talk.

There’s a good reason this jovial and charming Kenyan provokes controversy.

Juma, though entertaining, doesn’t mince words — “Africa is already doing organic farming … and it isn’t working very well.” He describes himself as a bit of ‘techno-optimist,’ a believer like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in the fundamental power of science and technology to transform agriculture in poor countries, especially sub-Saharan Africa.

“Agricultural reform is the key to economic development in Africa, and it is already happening,” Juma said. Many African nations lead the world in economic growth rates and new approaches to old problems are transforming the continent. “Technologies destroy ideologies.”

But it is Juma’s enthusiastic support for science and technology as the key to agri-reform — indeed, to development in general — that makes him a target for those who contend such a strategy ignores, or at least glosses over, a lot of the political, economic and social reasons why so many people remain in poverty.

One of Juma’s critics, retired UW professor of technology policy Phil Bereano, asked why Juma doesn’t describe in his book all of the political work he does behind the scene with African leaders to get them to make agricultural reform a priority.

Bereano: “The reality is that these technological choices are skewed by power …. Why do you leave this out of your presentations?”

Juma: “Yes, power matters … I wrote this book as a memo to African leaders …. If these guys are not engaged, nothing will happen.”

And if he focused his book trying to provide his own perspective on African politics rather than the promise of agricultural reform, Juma said, he would have been much less effective. In short, he explained, he had to leave the power politics out of the book in order to be heard within the corridors of power.

“Nothing is perfect,” Juma had said earlier. There’s plenty to debate and lots of conflicting ideologies, he said, but he is trying to stay focused on the practicalities of finding the best solutions to Africa feeding itself — and, if things go as well as he imagines, helping to feed to world.

For more of Juma’s thoughts, and responses to his critics, listen to the audio interview above.