The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is pleased to present the 2017 Next Generation Delegates blog series. This year’s Delegation was comprised of 20 outstanding students from universities across the United States and around the world studying agriculture, food, and related disciplines. We were thrilled to feature these emerging leaders at the Global Food Security Symposium 2017, and look forward to sharing the exciting work of this extraordinary group.
Despite progress made in the last few decades—particularly economic progress in countries such as Angola, Botswana, and Rwanda—Africa is still known as the “hungry continent.” It is paradoxical that the continent’s long-known agricultural potential continually struggles to translate into output, leaving Africa a net importer of food since at least the mid-1970s. Many countries struggle to meet the caloric and nutritional needs of their inhabitants, particularly the poorest, who ironically, are often farmers.
But not long ago, Brazil wasn’t so different. In interior Brazil, the cerrado, a type of tropical savannah with poor quality, acidic soils, was long considered unsuitable to support agriculture, and the people who lived there suffered from hunger and undernutrition, and were dependent on foods imported into the region. But a few decades ago, Brazilian agricultural outputs saw aggressive growth, and came to dominate the international commodities markets. The cerrado’s role in this phenomenon is key, and underpins Mato Grosso state’s transformation from cerrado frontier to the largest soybean producing state in the world. Far from a miracle of chance, however, these outcomes are the result of pragmatism and just the right, favorable conditions.
Favorable conditions refer to the reasonable stability of political and institutional environments Brazil has enjoyed for a hundred years; despite historic ups and downs, Brazil has avoided both civil war and radical structural changes to the economy, such as collectivization. The pragmatic approach, on the other hand, consisted of targeted research by Embrapa, a state-owned research corporation affiliated to the Ministry of Agriculture, focused on specific bottlenecks in Brazil’s agricultural system. To be more specific, Brachiaria decumbens, a kind of grass grown for livestock forage, was discovered to thrive in the cerrado, and planting it allowed beef cattle production to thrive there; the development and introduction of new varieties made soybeans compatible with the tropic’s heat; and agricultural best practices like no-till and lime spraying helped farmers overcome soil productivity limitations.
Similarly, Africa has areas that present overall adequate conditions to support the industrial agriculture model successful in the Americas, such as the plains that extend between Angola and Mozambique and inner Ethiopia. And as long as tropical latitudes and climate is considered, there are possibilities for partial transfer of technology (even though there is necessary adaptation to specific conditions, such as diseases and plagues).
The Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ Global Food Security Symposium is an example of our best thinkers leading efforts to improve Africa’s food and agricultural sector. Despite similarities with the Brazilian case, progress needs to be considered in a broader spectrum. It is of great importance that both African and foreign governments, as well as institutions, maintain collaboration to unlock the African agricultural potential. After witnessing the Symposium first hand as a Next Generation delegate, I cannot help but feel optimistic about the future.
Read previous blogs by the 2017 Next Generation Delegates:
Food Security, Sustainable Agricultural Production, and Nutrition in Sub-Saharan Africa
The Two Words Required to Sell Careers in Agriculture to Young People
Technology for Youth Engagement in the New Age of Agriculture
How Public and Private Partnerships Can Achieve a More Food-Secure World
Why a Practical Consensus on Animal Welfare Is Essential to Combating Climate Change
Working Together in Times of Food Insecurity
To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate: The Dilemma for Chicken Farmers in Tanzania
Unifying the Next Generation through Open Data
Food Security: Agriculture, Society, and Ecology
Canada's Challenge: Ending Chronic Food Insecurity in the Far North
Nutrition Security in the 21st Century