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Ask Slashdot: How To Feed Africa?

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the infinite-gnutella dept.

Science 592

gbrumfiel writes "Africa has some of the poorest soil of anywhere on the earth, and over farming is only making matters worse. As the population grows, governments and NGOs must decide whether to subsidize chemical fertilizers like those used in the west or promote more sustainable agricultural practices. In Malawi, the government has decided to subsidize fertilizers, with impressive results. Corn yields have tripled since the subsidies were introduced. More sustainable practices, such as fertilizer trees can't deliver those kind of results in just a few years. The question is simple: does Africa follow the same, unsustainable road as the rest of the world? Or do they become a testing ground for potentially game-changing new techniques? OR is there a third path? Discuss."

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Stopped reading at... (5, Insightful)

gentryx (759438) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505575)

"Africa has some of the poorest soils anywhere on the earth". Such a generic statement about a whole continent which contains huge portions of tropical rainforest and grassland is just wrong.

Re:Stopped reading at... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39505585)

Yes. Destroy everything for soil!

Great solution.

Re:Stopped reading at... (4, Insightful)

mosb1000 (710161) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505623)

Nevertheless, Africa is a whole continent. It has plenty of good farmland. Look at the US, most of it is "some of the poorest soil on earth." But the reality is you can still do a lot with it, using conventional farming techniques.

Re:Stopped reading at... (5, Interesting)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505663)

All of this reminds me of the bogus, misplaced effort of the Toms Shoes variety. You know - the guy who's margin on cheaply made shoes is so high, he donates a pair for African charity, for every pair your daughter buys in the Westfield Centre.

Put your factory there! Employ Africans, and use the charity-profits to train local entreperneurship to become your next competitor! Teach a man to fish, fer godsake!

Re:Stopped reading at... (5, Interesting)

ProfessionalCookie (673314) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505993)

Better yet, get us internet at a speed and price competitive with the US.

Knowledge is power, we can't even get sufficient 10th, 11th and 12th grade school books this year. (Pemba, Mozambique).

Re:Stopped reading at... (5, Insightful)

eggstasy (458692) | more than 2 years ago | (#39506049)

You don't get it. Imagine setting up a factory in a place without a stable power or water supply, decent roads, large enough ports, with a corrupt dictatorship, tribal warlords, gigantic wildlife and weird tropical diseases.
It's slowly getting better in some places, but Africa is not ours to fix. We could build them roads, but how do we get our money back, tolls? They don't have enough cars for that. We could lend them money to build roads but it would be squandered by corrupt politicians who would default on the debt.
It really has to be solved by them (think Arab Spring), unless you want to colonize the place again and develop it for your own people to use.
Like I said, it's getting better in Angola, for instance, and all they had to do was to stop fighting their silly guerrillas and get a stable government. They're attracting lots of international investment nowadays.

Re:Stopped reading at... (5, Funny)

JasterBobaMereel (1102861) | more than 2 years ago | (#39506061)

Imagine setting up a factory in a place without a stable power or water supply, decent roads, large enough ports, with a corrupt dictatorship, tribal warlords, gigantic wildlife and weird tropical diseases - Florida?

Re:Stopped reading at... (4, Insightful)

intok (2605693) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505677)

Traditional farming techniques like tons of nitrite fertilizer and fresh water piped in from far off places? Thats not an option and it wasn't for allot of The Midwest during the 30's, look up the Dustbowl and how wind erosion destroyed allot of farmland here in the US and how it's destroying parts of China today. In many places there simply isn't enough water in the aquifers to just start pumping it out as 10 years down the line the region will have desertification due to all of the water that was trapped in the ground being sent downstream.

Re:Stopped reading at... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39505607)

"Africa has some of the poorest soils anywhere on the earth". Such a generic statement about a whole continent which contains huge portions of tropical rainforest and grassland is just wrong.

Well that, and the fact they call use of fertilizers "unsustainable". Bullshit, fertilizers take unsustainable farmland and make it sustainable.

Re:Stopped reading at... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39505659)

Fertilizers are made from methane via the Haber process. Where do you get the methane from?

Re:Stopped reading at... (2)

mug funky (910186) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505687)

by letting the food you grow rot, and capturing the resulting gas, duh.

Re:Stopped reading at... (3, Interesting)

Patch86 (1465427) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505671)

Technically the statement is (or can be) true. There's no reason Africa couldn't have "some of the poorest" AND "some of the richest" soils at the same time.

A lot of Africa has poor soil, and a lot of the more fertile areas are rainforests which we wouldn't want to advocate burning to the ground to turn into farmland. Africa also has more than a billion people to feed. So the question is still a reasonably valid one- how do you turn the large expanses of infertile wasteland into productive arable land?

Quoting Professor Kinnison (2, Informative)

symbolset (646467) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505725)

"Move to where the food is."

Re:Quoting Professor Kinnison (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39505975)

Yup. "See this? This is sand. You know what it's gonna be a hundred years from now? IT'S GONNA BE SAND!!"

Re:Stopped reading at... (3, Informative)

intok (2605693) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505739)

Rainforests don't make food farmland long term by virtue of them being RAIN forrests, the amount of rain they get in a year quickly washes away the fertile topsoil once it's not being constantly being replenished by new leaf litter. as for the grasslands, they are grasses that are only there for the rainy season, I'd doubt that said land could maintain such a nutrient inefficient crop like corn long term.

Re:Stopped reading at... (5, Insightful)

wierd_w (1375923) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505835)

Newsflash. Rainforest is terrible soil.

Newsflash. Africa is suffering desertification, and the grasslands are mostly deep sand.

Here is what africa needs to do:

Healthy, fertile arable soil is about 50 parts clay, 20 parts sand, and 30 parts organic sponge. The types of clay in the 50% clay figure are important.

Parts of africa are loaded with clay and organic sponge. Parts of africa are loaded with sand.

Get the african nations to stop fighting each other over tarot roots, and get them to ship dirt to each other.

We have the technology to do this. It isn't hard. The benefits greatly outweigh the costs over time. Chemical fertilizers do not solve the soil nutrition and arability problems. Pouring miracle grow on sand won't help you for long.

Trade big shipments of river silt (organic sponge), heavy clay, and washed sand. Plow it into unproductive fields that are suffering deficits.

Watch shit fucking grow.

Re:Stopped reading at... (2)

tibit (1762298) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505875)

+1 insightful. I've never thought of that!

Re:Stopped reading at... (3, Insightful)

wvmarle (1070040) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505893)

While your solution for soil improvement may be technically correct (though you need lots and lots of shiploads of dirt to make it work), it's commercially impossible.

The Africans themselves don't have money. Well not entirely true, there is a lot of money, but all in the hands of a few people who are not interested in sharing any of it. Subsidising such activities is difficult, as it's hard to prevent the money to end up in the wrong hands (i.e. those with a lot of money already, and only eager to get more).

Finally, most Africancs are hungry RIGHT NOW. So they want food on the table RIGHT NOW. An instant solution is needed to solve that issue; only when they are fed RIGHT NOW they will be interested in thinking about being fed tomorrow, next week and next year. Artificial fertiliser can solve that part of the problem, but will need a more longer-term strategy to follow up.

Re:Stopped reading at... (5, Insightful)

wierd_w (1375923) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505961)

The problem with quick easy fixes, is that people use them, then abuse them, and treat them like permanent ones.

We nerds in IT should be well aware of this by now. How many "temporary fixes" have your employers twisted into permanent ones?

Same thing here. There is money to be made. LOTS of money to be made, by *NOT* properly improving the soil. Shafting starving vllagers for miracle grow while the soil's mineral content dries up, leaving them with soil that won't even grow weeds in the rainy season is *VERY* profitable.

That is why it must be avoided, and done right, if you really want the african people to not suffer.

Re:Stopped reading at... (1)

wvmarle (1070040) | more than 2 years ago | (#39506033)

The problem with quick easy fixes, is that people use them, then abuse them, and treat them like permanent ones.

Absolutely true. But that doesn't mean that a quick fix is not necessary sometimes. When someone is bleeding heavily, you will put a quick-fix bandage on that arm, to stop the bleeding. You're not going to wait fixing it until someone comes with a needle and thread to stitch it up properly. Without the quick fix there is no patient left to sow up.

Re:Stopped reading at... (5, Insightful)

hairyfish (1653411) | more than 2 years ago | (#39506047)

Get the african nations to stop fighting each other

Impossible. I was to going make some comments about the situation there but everything I wrote sounded racist. How do you address the fact that seems to be a clear pattern of behaviour in that continent that doesn't look like it will ever be solved while the locals are in charge?

Re:Stopped reading at... (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39505837)

Glaciers made the north fertile which the south largely lacked. They ground up mountains then dropped the minerals in the flatlands when the glaciers melted. Rock dust is an established way to make ground fertile but they don't line the pockets of oil companies so they are largely ignored. A combination of things like rock dust and kelp would make the ground fertile yet oddly aren't even discussed. The other factor is water which all the oil based fertilizers in the world won't change. One of the benefits to rock dust over oil based fertilizers is it actually restores lost minerals. In our society if it doesn't line the pockets of the rich we loose interest fast. Africa has large amounts of volcanic as well as other forms of rock that can be turned into fertilizer. It also has a massive amount of coastline that could be used to harvest kelp and other ocean based forms of fertilizer. There are a lot of fishermen yet why aren't they encouraged to use bi-catch, worthless fish, as fertilizer? Anything not sold is discarded when it could be fertilizing poor soil. All that is lacking is the will to use things that don't make the rich richer.

Here are a few articles.

Re:Stopped reading at... (1)

wierd_w (1375923) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505897)

Rockdust (and volcanic clays) would be a good idea. Widespread removal of kelp and fish on a continental scale would destroy local fishing shoals.

Better would be controlled dredging of river deltas, and removing the organic sludge for export. That stuff is alive with biotics and mineral salts.

Re:Stopped reading at... (3, Informative)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505865)

Interestingly, (and I know this is somewhat tangential to the point you were making), and surprisingly, rainforests often have quite poor soil [] .

Re:Stopped reading at... (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39505977)

I agree. I grew up in Africa. The problem is the governments, or rather dictators. For example, Zimbabwe (cough), COULD feed the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa. It has superbly rich soil, enough water, good rainfall. Yet the silly West have to prop it up as its 10 million inmates are starving. "aid" money hardly ever reaches its intended audience - 99.99% gets gobbled up by government officials, bribes, etc. It is simple the way of Africa. They think differently, no matter how much BS the Greens and Liberals tell you - people in the 3rd world do NOT think or act like YOU.

Solution (4, Insightful)

larppaxyz (1333319) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505591)

Birth control.

Re:Solution (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39505619)

or just stop feeding them. let the population adjust naturally to the food supply. keep on feeding them with no infrastructure = more starving people not less.

Modest proposal (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39505643)

Or they could eat their children.

Re:Solution (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39505667)

That's a false economy. Who's going to make our cheap stuff when the Chinese become too expensive?

Re:Solution (1)

Aryden (1872756) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505717)

Mexico. The prices may be slightly higher when dealing with drug cartels, but we would start saving on trans-pacific shipping.

Re:Solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39505887)

You clearly haven't been paying attentions. Mexico was a manufacturing center 15 years ago, but even they got too expensive for our need of cheap shit at any (non-monetary) cost. China fulfills that today. Indonesia will probably fill in for a bit, but after that we're screwed. We may actually have to build our own products, pay our citizens to do it, and settle for less, oh no!

Re:Solution (1)

davester666 (731373) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505751)

You racist, freedom-hating person.

Unless you have the right to pop out as many children as you possibly can, in the hopes that some of them will live long enough to get to the stage where they will be able to scratch together enough money to support you through begging, you don't have true freedom.

Re:Solution (1)

wvmarle (1070040) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505903)

That doesn't feed many people that are hungry now. And even on a one-child policy like China (if enforceable) their population will continue to grow for a long time.

Birth control... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39505597)

...can save a lot of food and water!

the bigger problem (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39505599)

How about not growing the population in an area that can't sustain it? Our whole planet is going to have to do this at some point unless there's some sort of breakthrough. Is it really too early to start talking about managing population growth or are we still so blind that we can't distinguish between human rights and long term survival?

Re:the bigger problem (4, Interesting)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505647)

Population is the elephant in the room of environmentalism. It's the root of almost all other problems, perhaps the most serious one of all. At the same time, the only ways to fix it would face massive public opposition to the point that the environmental movement as a whole would suffer from the backlash. So the problem is ignored, on the grounds that there are no politically viable solutions. China excepted, but them only because their government doesn't have to care how unpopular it's programs are.

Re:the bigger problem (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39505839)

Exponential population growth, contrary to popular belief, is actually a myth. Birth control is actually popular with the people who use it (women). If people can afford it and are educated as to it's existence it works great without any sort of oppressive scheme. See for example, India's rapidly declining birthrate: graph [] as an example of how population is not as bad as you might think. In my personal opinion, the biggest issue for the environment is intellectual property and microregulations that impede alternative energy development.

Re:the bigger problem (4, Interesting)

Confusedent (1913038) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505847)

Disagree, the carrying capacity of Earth increases with new technological breakthroughs. As an example, we're only utilizing less than 30% of the *surface* habit right now (we can grow shit on the oceans, you know). The real issue is capturing enough energy (plus converting it to the desired forms) to feed/house/etc. everyone. Trying to control population is a needless violation of human rights, at least at this point. Well, not entirely needless given the current technology and economic structure, but the point is we have more than enough resources, we just manage them poorly, plus the first world has pretty well demonstrated that comfortable living is more important than taking care of the less fortunate. Oh don't get me wrong, Malthusian growth can't continue indefinitely, but we are so freaking far from that point it isn't even funny.

Re:the bigger problem (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#39506015)

I don't see the problem. The West has already figured out how to be helpless in a politically viable way in the face of African die-offs.

Re:the bigger problem (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39505759)

How about not growing the population in an area that can't sustain it? Our whole planet is going to have to do this at some point unless there's some sort of breakthrough. Is it really too early to start talking about managing population growth or are we still so blind that we can't distinguish between human rights and long term survival?

Yep. And one problem is the church which is doing much of the aid work in developing counries. Church does not allow birth control. Quite opposite, their bible says people should spread and fill the earth. They don't undestant that it happened allready over a hunderd years a go.

Re:the bigger problem (0, Flamebait)

Githaron (2462596) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505815)

I have no problem with birth control in general. I have a problem with abortion.

Re:the bigger problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39505955)

troll harder asshole.

Why don't you ask Rhodesia? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39505603)

They were the breadbasket of Africa in the 70s, until the blacks took over and chased all the white farmers out.

Nigs are gonna nig (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39505605)

How about remembering that niggers don't count as people?

Sam Kinison on World Hunger (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39505613)

Why farm at all? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39505617)

If the soil is so poor why farm at all? Why not focus on some other industry to grow the economy and import all their food?

Re:Why farm at all? (1)

Patch86 (1465427) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505685)

The rest of the world doesn't have unlimited food production capacity. Trying to import food for one billion people into Africa will mean other places in the world will need to produce one billion peoples' worth of new food. That's no small thing.

Re:Why farm at all? (1)

Aryden (1872756) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505729)

we already do, the government pays farmers to burn their crops to keep prices artificially inflated so that the farming is actually profitable and people will do it.

Re:Why farm at all? (1)

Githaron (2462596) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505855)

I always thought this was dumb. If there is a known market someone is going to satisfy it. If food prices were aloud to go down, there would simply be fewer farmers not necessarily less food. The remaining farmers would increase production to satsify the demand.

Hydroponics? (1)

intok (2605693) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505631)

how about something like the hydroponic system being used in Milwaukee, WI where they are also farming fish in the vegetable grows? Thoguh they do need allot more water in much of Africa, Desalination plants would help some, but not for the countries on the interior.

Re:Hydroponics? (1)

mug funky (910186) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505703)

"allot" does not mean what you think it means.

Re:Hydroponics? (2)

intok (2605693) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505775)

Allot is allot when looking food for a few hundred million people and you aren't next to what amounts to a fresh water sea.

no chemical fertilizers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39505635)

They shouldn't use chemical fertilizers. Use sustainable practices only. The poor yields will help to starve the excess population to death and the yield curve will eventually meet the population curve. Stop hurting Gaia with your chemical food rape.

Re:no chemical fertilizers (1)

intok (2605693) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505803)

They shouldn't use chemical fertilizers. Use sustainable practices only. The poor yields will help to starve the excess population to death and the yield curve will eventually meet the population curve. Stop hurting Gaia with your chemical food rape.

This message brought to you by Monsanto?

I KNOW!! (4, Insightful)

HaeMaker (221642) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505639)

How about we let the Africans decide! What a CONCEPT! Self determination!

Re:I KNOW!! (5, Funny)

mug funky (910186) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505715)

you're crazy. they have oil. it's obvious intervention is required.

Re:I KNOW!! (1)

MastaBaba (530286) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505733)

Troll? Answering the question posed in the OP has nothing to do with whether 'Africans' should be self determinate.

They have to chose? (3, Informative)

DarwinSurvivor (1752106) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505655)

This is a stupid question. Why can't they do all 3? Did Africa recently shrink to the point where they can only try 1 type of farming? This is like asking what type of electrical generation the US should switch to!

Grow stuff that is appropriate for the area. (5, Interesting)

Gordonjcp (186804) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505683)

Of course we all know that all farms should only be used for growing vegetables because raising animals is bad for the environment, right?


This is exactly why. The only people who think that we should only grow vegetables are people who have only ever seen thousands of acres of rolling Iowa cornfields - much of which gets fed to cows. Most of the world doesn't use "feedlots" the way that the cattle industry in the US does. Most of the world isn't rolling Iowa cornfield, either.

The only thing that makes sense is to try to grow things that will actually thrive in the prevailing conditions. Trying to turn land that is not really suitable for arable crops into land that *is* suitable for arable crops is doomed to expensive failure. Now, the first problem with Africa is that cutting down forests to provide arable land has allowed what soil there was to wash or blow away, depending on whether it's getting deluged with rain or dried into powder with the sun. The first thing is not to worry too much about importing huge amounts of petrochemical-derived fertiliser, but to get irrigation working and grow green manure crops that will tie what little soil there is together, and provide some nutrients when they break down. The great thing about this is that you don't really care if the water is dirty - in fact, you *want* it to be a bit dirty, any sediment or sewage or dead animals will only make it work better. The more biomass you get in there, the better. Sure, it'll smell a bit horrible, but have you ever been near an organic farm when they're spreading the organic fertiliser out? Hint - you make organic fertiliser using cows, sheep and pigs.

A good solution would be to devise some way of processing sewage from towns into something that can be used as fertiliser. The difficulty is that allowing sewage to break down involves allowing human shit to break down, and that requires you to let bacteria multiply rapidly, and you tend to get predominantly E Coli bacteria when you do that. This isn't exactly what you want to fling onto your arable crops, and killing E Coli requires lots of chemicals or lots of heat. They've got a lot of sunshine, so maybe you could do something with that - a sort of solar steriliser to bake off the E Coli and give you a nice, dry, easy-to-handle compost.

Of course you're going to need to find some sort of livestock that thrive in these conditions, and goats do pretty well, but goats eat everything and will destroy ground-covering plants which is how we got into this mess in the first place. Hens would do pretty well, as long as you had a biggish grassy patch with plenty of bugs for them to eat. Cows would be good if you could get enough forage in for them initially, because there's nothing quite so good at turning poor grassland into fertile arable land as getting some sort of ruminant to eat the tough inedible grasses and pass them through that complex set of stomachs.

We can't afford the arable land for everyone to be vegetarian, and when the oil runs out the situation will get worse. We *all* need to plan now and act soon.

For God's Sake, Please Stop the Aid! (5, Insightful)

little1973 (467075) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505691)

Re:For God's Sake, Please Stop the Aid! (5, Insightful)

Solandri (704621) | more than 2 years ago | (#39506053)

In addition to that article, I'd add that there's a strong inverse correlation [] between economic development and population growth. The vast majority of population growth is in developing countries. Industrialized nations have close to zero and in some cases negative population growth. Food, clean water, and medicinal aid to developing countries may be well-intentioned, but it's just exacerbating the problem. Families which would've stopped after x babies continue to have more offspring because of the availability of food and water. Africans who would've died of starvation or disease survive, adding to a population which isn't sustainable with the infrastructure that's present there.

We're tackling the problem backwards. Instead of treating the symptoms, we need to be treating the problem. First and foremost, we need to be helping African nations build an economic base. Help the countries there establish stable governments conducive to economic growth, develop educational structures to provide a skilled workforce, and provide economic assistance to help them start up their own businesses and trade. Once you get the economic ball rolling, they will build their own fresh water wells and distribution system; they will build their own farms and irrigation canals; they will build their own hospitals and train their own doctors. Doing it the way we're doing - providing food, water, and medicine for free - is just increasing their population while killing what economies they have. We're stunting their economic growth while simultaneously moving the goalpost of economic self-sustainability further away.

How about we just stop "helping" (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39505705)

Africa is perfectly capable of growing enough food to feed its people. Many nations are capable of growing enough food to export the surplus. The problems are distribution, largely related to corruption and violence. It seems nearly everything we do just makes it worse. The free food shipments have a list of unintended consequences long enough to terrify you. It simultaneously props up the craven warlords that don't like us while depressing the prices for locally grown food so the farmers can't sell any excess they might grow for the tools that they need to buy the tools the need to continue to farm, much less other life expenses like clothes. Tools and clothes wear out, and if you destroy the local economies with our generousity, it does not help these people. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, as the old saying goes. And hell, I'm not the only one saying it. [] Good intentions don't matter. Bad results do.

Re:How about we just stop "helping" (2)

Wonko the Sane (25252) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505765)

Really? You mean dumping and unlimited supply of free food and lowering prices destroys the ability of the local farmers to make a living?

I'm shocked, shocked I tell you, that western governments and NGOs have been spending an enormous amount of other people's money "helping" in a way that never actually solves the problem but assures themselves perfect job security.

What is /.? Invisible Children now? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39505709)

But seriously... strange set of questions for a geeks' board.

While reduction of starvation can certainly help in reducing the myriad of fundamental infrastructure issues that Africa faces - banking, education, basic democracy (which is scarce on the continent), effective tamping down of militaristic regimes that ARE commonplace, and of course systemic corruption - all now removed from the long history of European colonialism that dominated Africa for centuries - it seems to me that even widespread starvation isn't even the fundamental problem with Africa. Basic proper governance is the problem and it will take the people of these countries to fix it.

And I can't imagine there aren't very large areas of sub-Saharan African that aren't eminently arable. If vast jungles exist in Africa, I can't see why they can't grow most or all of the food they need. Do Egyptians suffer from widespread starvation when most of that country is a desert? Don't think so.

Aquaponics (5, Interesting)

Essef (12025) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505731)

I have recently started an aquaponics system at home. I'm African, but an expat living overseas. I am massively impressed with the potential for this particular technology to allow for microfarming on small tracts or even in your backyard.
Benefits I persieve so far:
      a) High yields over comparable soil-based techniques
      b) Allows for both protein and carbs to be sourced from one system
      c) Staples like corn have been successfully grown on *very* short cycles
      d) Small family-sized setups can be built to supplement a small family's needs or large "community systems" can be built to leverage economies of scale.
      e) Highly efficient water use compared to soil-based methods with only losses due to evaporation.
      f) Once it gets started the system is self-stabilising

Challenges I see:
    g) Technically not the easiest thing to get started
    h) Cycling the system to establish the nutrient and bacterial load can take up to a month
    i) First fish harvest can take up to 9 months (Tilapia)
    j) A typical flood-and-drain system needs a waterpump running 24/7 as well as potentially an airpump for the fishes. Electricity !?

I would be very much in favour of aid which goes toward establish self-sustaining community farms. I'm not a fan of aid which breeds dependency.

Re:Aquaponics (1)

Aryden (1872756) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505757)

for part j, I am not sure how much energy is needed by the pump, but could a wind mill accomplish the energy needs? I'm talking on a mechanical level not necessarily electricity generating.

Re:Aquaponics (4, Interesting)

Essef (12025) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505979)

I'm currently running an AC waterpump capable of delivering 3000liters per hour at pump exit, and less than half of that at 1.5 m head height. This pump uses a whopping 40W of electricity.
I think that a windmill is an excellent idea, however since the wind can be rather fickle, I don't know how one would keep the nutrient-rich water flowing, and the fishtanks aerated.
An alternative is to have a biodiesel pump. There is a particular waterplant called "duckweed" which makes an excellent fish food, and also just so happens to have enormous potential as a biodiesel. Estimates are of delivering 200L of biodiesel from a modest planting of the stuff.

It certainly is a sticky problem and one which I've wrestled with for some time now.

Re:Aquaponics (1)

Essef (12025) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505763)

This is also well worth a read :

How to Grow More Vegetables: Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine - John Jeavons

I'd also like to say (1)

Aryden (1872756) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505741)

Let the countries in Africa decide on how to deal with their food issues. Meanwhile, here in the U.S., we should divert this energy into trying to keep our people fed. I'm getting real tired of hearing about all of these "food deficient" children on the tv.

Eat babies! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39505747)

What? Everyone thought it was all cool when Jonathan Swift said it.

Practicality (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39505769)

I'm an African. We cannot afford to waste resources we don't have on "sustainable approaches" when we can simply copy what has worked well everywhere.

So many factors, and I only know a couple. (1)

GoodNewsJimDotCom (2244874) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505783)

26 million people die each year to malnutrition and lack of clean drinking water. The cost of saving a life of one person each day is .33. So the cost for a year is $100. The cost to solve world hunger for a year is 3 billion. The cost to put into motion long term projects to solve world hunger is 30 billion as posed by the UN. [] The thing we should examine in ourselves is,"Based on the way I live, could I spare some money to help the poor?" It is similar to when Oscar Schindler broke down because he didn't sell his watch and car to save more lives. World hunger could be solved if enough people worked towards a solution.

One solution that doesn't work great is dumping food into areas. By exporting food to impoverished areas, you solve the problem for the short term, but if you stop doing it, there will be no farmers. Why will there be no farmers? Supply and demand kills the demand for food and farmers can't stay in business when dumping occurs. Think to devious competition schemes people have in capitalism when you want to make your competitor go broke. You simply drop the price on your goods where everyone is losing money, but you'll make it back after your competitor goes broke.

This is not to say all dumping is bad. You can dump food into crisis areas, and also provide a version of food stamps too so local farmers get paid. Food stamps is a great way to drive up demand for local foods.

In all this, depending on how much governmental aid or resistance you get is a wild card.

I like the notion of growing fruit trees. In case a farmer dies, or wars and revolutions, fruit trees remain.

The whole matter should be treated seriously. When you look at the US budget 30 billion to solve world hunger doesn't seem like a whole lot, and maybe it is deceptively small. You'd think the UN would have a bunch of countries teaming up to solve hunger, but do you think the reason they don't is the guns/butter slider? If you donate food to someone like North Korea, they'll just build more weapons with their extra money. I'm not sure I buy this argument.

Anyone know the popular arguments why governments don't band together and try and solve world hunger?

Re:So many factors, and I only know a couple. (1)

wvmarle (1070040) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505933)

$30 billion is not much. Bill Gates could fund that personally, if he wanted. Yet he chooses to fund other research - while also important possible doesn't have as much bang for the buck when it comes to saving lives. The US has spent a multitude of that for "rebuilding" Iraq and Afghanistan (which wouldn't be necessary in case they hadn't spent a similar amount into demolishing it to begin with, but that's another discussion). There is no reason a rich country like the US could not afford as little as $30 bln to solve world hunger.

Without having read the proposal I mainly wonder how the UN thinks to have that money actually spent on the target, instead of ending up in the pockets of the people in power in those countries. As that corruption is one of the major obstacles that stand in the way of improving people's livelyhoods.

The fact that this plan is not being implemented is for me a major indication that it's simply not feasible.

Don't feed them! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39505797)

Don't feed them. You're not everyone's nurse, no matter how much you would like to be.

Besides, by feeding them you only sew suffering for future Africans and quite frankly, for us to. What is this mental disease that makes people think we should fight to have billions and billions of people live forever? Do you have no understanding of how the world works? How sheltered were you?

Solution (1)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505817)

Solution is to stop subsidising farming everywhere. Africa could supply huge amounts of grown food much cheaper than many other places can, but there is a problem: other places are heavily subsidised and compared to the wealthy nations that do the subsidies, African nations cannot compete.

Of-course that, and stopping with the meddling of the foreign affairs of countries of the world, maybe no longer supporting the dictators that are convenient to support.

Compete against who? (1)

pablo_max (626328) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505861)

Who are they competing with? What do US far subsidies have to do with Africa not having enough food? Africa is not a huge consumer of US farm goods.

I think the point is more that Africa, as a whole (excluding some countries) is not able to produce the amount of food to sustain their population.

Re:Compete against who? (1)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505891)

African countries could easily output huge amounts of food, but they are prevented from even competing by what I mentioned:
1. Huge subsidies by most other nations into food supply.
2. Wars. Many nations in Africa are in a near perpetual state of emergency of some kind, and there is very little that people can do in many places without being destroyed by that sort of activity. Those wars are in large part supported by the foreigners via subsidies to the dictators, arms trade.

Re:Compete against who? (1)

wvmarle (1070040) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505949)

I don't know about Africa but I have another example for you how US crops can outcompete local farms.

US produces a lot of heavily subisidised cotton, and exports a lot of it to China to make clothes out of - they produce much more than they can use themselves. China also produces a lot of cotton: lower land cost, lower wages, less transport cost (it's local, no import duties to be paid). Yet the US cotton arrives at the Chinese factory at lower cost than the local Chinese cotton, putting Chinese farmers out of work!

Supply and Demand Growth (3, Insightful)

sociocapitalist (2471722) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505821)

It is immaterial how much can be grown so long as there is no widespread use of contraception. The more food grown, the more mouths there will be demanding the food grown.

One word. (2, Insightful)

Cosgrach (1737088) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505827)


Re:One word. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39505967)

To expand on that a tiny bit: How about we have population sizes that suit the arability of available land and supply of water in bad times. It may seem like a defeatist attitude, but when the world population is on an exponential growth curve there is only one answer. CONDOMS!

OR... Something as brilliant as China's solution: halve the population in one generation through a one child policy. Well worth a watch:

Re:One word. (1)

oever (233119) | more than 2 years ago | (#39506021)

While the one child policy is certainly very very good and should be adopted on the entire plant, the effects on population growth and fertility rate [] are less than you think.

Africa is the oldest human society on earth. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39505853)

Africa is the oldest human society on earth.
Why is it upon the rest of the world to figure out "How To Feed Africa"?

Permaculture (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39505869)

Simple to feed the lot, they should use PERMACULTURE to green their lands. No fertilizers/pesticides needed, the world is capable of growing itself. Why do we (humans) think we can do something better then that what was around millions of years before us and still is flourishing. Except when we messed it up. Or I should say, we did and maybe still not understand how the earth works.

Have less children, fight overpopulation in Africa (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39505879)

The problem is they have too many children and Africa is overpopulated when it comes to the ability of the soil to feed the population.

It should be a natural process to have less children or even die out for some tribes so that others would be able to live in there.
Look at the Inuits - they have similar situation with food, yet they have no such problems.

Imagine your family had 10 or more children. You think your parents would have been able to feed you?

By helping Africa we are only making it worse.
African people are used to live like that, and if you give them food, they will have even more children and still starve (proven, google it).
There is no solution to this situation because of the mentality of those people. Sad but true.

well (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39505899)

[quote] NGOs must decide whether to subsidize chemical fertilizers like those used in the west or promote more sustainable agricultural practices[/quote]

People should investigate the ties/funding of most important NGO's and realize they have been had all along.

Too bad most people won't because cognitive dissonance is a bitch (so I'm told).

FUCK NO!!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39505901),1518,363663,00.html
[...]Huge bureaucracies are financed (with the aid money), corruption and complacency are promoted, Africans are taught to be beggars and not to be independent. In addition, development aid weakens the local markets everywhere and dampens the spirit of entrepreneurship that we so desperately need. As absurd as it may sound: Development aid is one of the reasons for Africa's problems. If the West were to cancel these payments, normal Africans wouldn't even notice. Only the functionaries would be hard hit. Which is why they maintain that the world would stop turning without this development aid.[,,,]

Africa needs education and Internet everywhere. With aid you only support assholes like that christian fundamentalist Joseph Kony.

Education and Internet

Re:FUCK NO!!!! (1)

1s44c (552956) | more than 2 years ago | (#39506063)

Education and Internet

They need books on farming. They lack practical knowledge of large scale farming methods.

What they don't need is the west screwing around and abusing them more. Just let them get on with it and figure it out for themselves.

Perhaps Education (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39505911)

Maybe some type of education system would help?
I dont mean that we teach them to farm, because we have tried and tried to set things up there and it doesnt work. They have no money for maintaining expensive farm equipment and such. So after a year it just sit there.
I would actually argue that we should not feed Africa. Africa should feed Africa. If you have large group of generally uneducated people with a ready supply of food, they will reproduce until said food supply is no longer available. No one likes to talk about it for fear of being labeled a racist, but it is what would happen. It is no different than those living in a permanent welfare state in the states. On average, they have many more children than the educated class despite their inability to properly provide for them.

Utilize otherwise wasted porn protein... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39505919)

Utilize otherwise wasted porn protein...
I mean corn protein ;)

-HasHie @

Water pipe lines (1)

Barsteward (969998) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505935)

AS they can lay pipe lines for gas and oil, why not lay pipes for water to take water away from those countries that suffer monsoon floods? The more water that pipe away as the monsoon starts the less chance there is for a damaging flood for that area, win-win.

Stop buying their food exports (1)

solarissmoke (2470320) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505943)

Here in Kenya, very productive crop farms (wheat, corn) are been constantly replaced with farms that export fruit, vegetables and flowers to Europe, because government subsidies encourage export over local industry. Not only are the latter much more intensive in their water/energy/chemical requirements, they also mean that the country is seriously dependent on increasingly fickle Western markets (people buy fewer flowers and exotic vegetables in a recession).

This has happened so much that the country no longer is self-sufficient when it comes to things like wheat and corn (which form the basis of the local diet). We now import these things from places like Russia. If instead we hadn't bothered with silly flower farms and stuck to feeding the local population, things would be a lot less precarious.

Why would the West do this? (1)

AHuxley (892839) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505969)

The ships arrive empty and depart full.
It is better to deal with a war lord over an area of needed mineral wealth vs a stable 2nd world government. They would demand and get an upfront clean up contract and ongoing outside testing.....
If Africa gets its own food security- then steps up to eduction, mining, housing, value added exports....
As it is now you can extract gems, gold, timber, oil for cents in the $. Why risk paying cents + more when you can keep the balance between chaos and a thiefdom for generations.
So provide a flood of cheap food to suppress local efforts and ensure any real charity work is limited.
Mix in tame NGO's that keep a majority of their funds and produce feel good efforts on demand.

Two words (1)

dargaud (518470) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505991)

Peak phosphorus []

Down with Discusses (1, Interesting)

lucm (889690) | more than 2 years ago | (#39505995)

This is off-topic but I have to say, whenever I see a post that ends with "Discuss." I feel the urge to print it then crumple the printout, stick it in a garbage bag full of dead squirrels, then hire a bum that has to eat asparagus for an entire day before peeing in the bag, then set the bag in the sun and let it simmer for a week, then build a brick wall around it, then spray a bunch of lame graffitis on that wall, then build a low quality house around that wall and sell the house to low quality people that I know will not take good care of it, then when there is a foreclosure (which is unavoidable) buy the house back then build a huge barn around it and put a sign on it saying: here lies arrogance.

To whom it may concern: take your _discusses_ and do something unbearably disgusting with them.

I'd rather get stuck in an elevator with six mouth breathers, a stinker and a middle-aged woman selling Quixtar products than take one more "Discuss.".

Chemical fertilizer vs permaculture (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39506005)

My daughter is currently a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi and this has been a pretty hot topic in our conversations. Fuel shortages make producing petro-based fertilizers very expensive and transporting it out to the countryside very difficult. Lack of foreign exchange money make importing difficult also, but aid dollars are available for it. The Malawi government encourages use of chemical fertilizers and it is still the default method.
My daughter and most volunteers are trained by PC in permaculture and organic gardening for their personal use for sustainability, plus its is much cheaper (they have to get by on next to nothing and pretzel M&M shipments from their folks...). There are reasonable numbers of livestock scattered throughout and she is working with local groups to set up manure composting businesses locally in her district. It takes about 4x manure (her figure, seems low to me) for the same fertilization value you get from chemical fertilizers. It's more work and more susceptible to insects but no forex and reduced transport dependency, good for the local economy, sustainable, etc etc.

The real problem is that it is different. Malawi is not Sudan where starvation is common, but there are seasons every year when most people in her region are hungry. Taking a risk with the corn crop is not done lightly when you have a proven method and you have less than $1/day to feed your family of usually more than 4. She'll keep trying with demonstration patches etc, but it only works when the locals take up ownership of the result. It ain't easy being green when the short term consequence is so stark. Of course the long term consequences for non-sustainability are pretty rough, too.

Hat's off to the volunteers trying to make it happen and the Malawians brave enough to try.

Stop screwing around with africa (1)

1s44c (552956) | more than 2 years ago | (#39506007)

Ship them a thousand copies of every farming related book and leave them to get on with it. The west has been screwing around in Africa for a very long time and not much has come of it, they need to do this for themselves so they really know how to do it.

Death Trap (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39506041)

There's two types of countries in Africa. Thos that fell into the fertilizer death trap and those that improved the education of their farmers.Guess who won't have massive starvation once the fertilzier or money supply is cut for geopolitical reasons.It is a death trap and a proxy weapon to get a country to adopt fertilizer they have to import. The horror will be significant..

TV (1)

Krneki (1192201) | more than 2 years ago | (#39506051)

Give them free TV with cable access.

So they will watch TV instead to make more babies. If you give them only food, the population will boom and you will have the same problem.

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