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From newsdesk@igc.apc.org Wed May 24 18:48:20 2000
Date: Thu, 6 Apr 2000 23:10:40 -0500 (CDT)
From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>
Subject: AGRICULTURE-AFRICA: Organisation Helps Poor Gain Food Security
Article: 93036
X-UIDL: 9b4e3d5803b8d524224ee6af1b3b6ff8

Copyright 2000 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

Organisation Helps Poor Gain Food Security

By Lewis Machipisa, IPS
5 April 2000

HARARE, Apr 5 (IPS) - Food availability in Africa has gone down by 25 percent over the past 30 years but demand will have more than doubled by 2020, according to an international agricultural research institute.

"The other sad side of the story is that while population is increasing, fertility of soils is decreasing," says Timothy Reeves, director general of the Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).

CIMMYT is an international, non-profit, agricultural research and training centre dedicated to helping the poor in low-income countries.

It is co-sponsored by the Food And Agricultural Organisation (FAO), the World Bank, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The organisation helps in alleviating poverty by increasing the profitability, productivity, and sustainability of maize and wheat farming systems.

In Southern African region, for example, this year there will be a maize deficit of 134,000 tonnes, according to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional early warning unit.

Maize and wheat are among the three most vital of the developing world's basic foods, providing on average, a quarter of caloric intake in low-income groups.

According to Reeves, by 2020, net cereal imports of developing countries will have doubled. He says that although Asia has the highest population, food production has leapt ahead of population growth.

"But in Africa, food availability per capita has gone down. Population growth has exceeded increase in food production. Our biggest challenge is how we can increase the fertility of soils in more fragile ecologies," Reeves told IPS.

According to CIMMYT, maize seed derived from its research in global and regional partnerships is sown on more than 13 million hectares in the developing world and provides farmers with an average 0.5 tonnes of extra grain per hectare.

"If you look at what's going to happen in developing world and Africa in particular, the demand for staple cereal food, like maize will more than double," says Reeves who is in Zimbabwe to visit one of his organsation's projects.

"At CIMMYT we conduct essential science to meet people's essential needs for food, for income and for a healthy environment," says Reeves. "This is the way to enhance food security for the poor in developing countries".

In southern Africa, maize is a highly valued staple for small-scale, poor farmers and their families, but drought frequently threatens or destroys maize harvests.

CIMMYT is working with breeders in the region to generate locally adapted maize varieties and hybrids that produce more grain under severe drought stress than the traditional varieties.

"The sort of research we work on is looking at problems that are particularly appropriate to small farmers. We are looking at maize which is more drought tolerant with a higher nutritional value," says Reeves.

The tolerant maize is also bred for higher and more stable yields on low fertility soils. CIMMYT claims that in first results from on-station trials in the region, its experimental maize hybrids out-yielded popular, locally adapted hybrids by up 50 percent under drought stress.

Reeves says governments have to raise their investment in the agricultural sector in order for them to meet the required demands in the coming decades.

"When you look at the success of the last 30 years in Asia... its because there was heavy investment by governments in the agricultural sector generally but also in agricultural research in particular whether we meet those targets depends on how much sub- Saharan Africa governments invest in agriculture," says Reeves.

Water shortages are already having a negative impact on agriculture, the biggest water user in the world.

CIMMYT takes water problems in many different countries as part of its research to improve developing world agriculture.

CIMMYT has for years worked on developing agricultural practices to help farmers cope with diminishing water supplies..

The organisation's researchers have found that planting wheat on permanent beds improves water use efficiency Up to 30 percent of water can be saved.

Although water covers 70 percent of the earth's surface, 97 percent of this is saline. Only 2.5 percent is freshwater and nearly 70 percent of it is locked in icecaps and glaciers.

As the world population grows at the incredible pace of 100 million people a year, the relatively small amount of available freshwater is fast shrinking in proportion to demand.(END/IPS/lm/sm/00)


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