Science gives a new lease of life to millions, as a green revolution takes hold in Africa

Hunger kills more people every year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Green fingered scientists are fuelling an agricultural revolution in Africa, and are positively transforming the lives of millions on a daily basis. They are taking action through stimulating farming systems, increasing food security and ultimately readdressing the food balance.

Agriculture is fast being recognised as the key to solving many of Africa’s problems, including food shortages, poverty and illness. It has prompted the African Union (AU) Assembly of African Heads of State and Governments to declare 2014, the Year of Agriculture and Food Security.

By doing so, the AU hopes to give a new lease of life to millions of Africans, and encourage countries to develop innovative ways to tackle daily challenges through agricultural progress.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), an estimated 842 million people in 2011–13, were suffering from chronic hunger . The report documented many ‘hot spots’ where food security was a major issue, with Sub-Saharan Africa recorded as having the highest prevalence of undernourishment. The situation is exacerbated by a lack of reliable water supplies, erratic weather conditions, and difficult access to markets. Yet, by innovating farming systems and stimulating resources these figures can be dramatically reduced.

Such is the power of agriculture that if women farmers had the same access to resources as men, for example, the number of hungry people in the world could be reduced by up to 150 million.

Talking About A Revolution

It has become a mission of many leading agricultural scientists to boost farming in Africa, and other countries, through scientific breakthroughs and technology. Hailed as the leaders of the “Green Revolution”, these scientists are progressing agriculture with positive impact. They are focused on discovering sustainable ways to develop agricultural technology and know-how, in a bid to increase food security, eradicate poverty and stimulate economic growth. They are readdressing the balance and saving millions of lives in the process.

Dr Segenet Kelemu, Director of the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology, is one such scientist who has committed her research to improving the understanding of agriculture. “There is no reason or justification as to why millions of people go hungry each day, while a few over consume a disproportionate share of the earth’s resources,” says Dr Kelemu.

“As an agricultural scientist working on issues of food and nutrition security, I would say that one major challenge is to develop knowledge and technologies to reverse the degradation of land and associated natural resources and reduce poverty in the face of climate change. Tackling over-consumption, food wastage, and post-harvest losses along the chain from farm to the table will significantly reduce the pressure on our natural resources,” she explains.

Dr Kelemu’s work has significantly contributed to transforming African agriculture into an engine of sustainable economic growth. She has used science to successfully demonstrate how the microbes living in symbiosis with forage grasses (the main source of food for an ever-increasing population) affect their health and their capacity to adapt to changing climates. As a result, her work has improved farmer’s lives, in tropical and sub-tropical regions, and helped them increase supplies of much needed animal proteins by allowing them to choose the most productive and most climate suitable forage grasses.

In extremely hot climates drought is another major source of concern and it has devastating impact on crops and food supplies. Jill Farrant, professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, is the world’s leading expert on resurrection plants, which ‘come back to life’ from a desiccated, seemingly dead state when they are rehydrated. Her innovative research focuses on the ability of many species of these plants to survive without water for long periods of time from a number of angles, from the molecular, biochemical and ultrastructual to the whole-plant ecophysiological, using a unique comparative approach.

Professor Farrant explains that her ultimate goal is, “to find applications that will lead to the development of drought-tolerant crops to nourish populations in arid, drought-prone climates.” Her research may also result in the development of medicinal applications.

It is agricultural science at its most innovative and it is helping to transform Africa into an engine of economic growth.

Planting Seeds of Change

Using science, technology and innovation to revolutionise farming systems is undoubtedly reaping rewards. From plants seemingly coming back from the dead to using the right forage grasses, in the right conditions, to combat food shortages, this ‘Green Revolution’ is planting the seeds of sustainable change, with impressive results. As our understanding of agriculture grows, many of today’s pressing issues, such as poverty and starvation will be stemmed through science. 

For Women in Science

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