by DAVID AXE
For nearly two decades starting in 1944, future Texas A&M prof Norman Borlaug helped Mexican farmers use improved wheat strains to boost food production. His “green-revolution” techniques were eventually adopted across the world. “More than any other single person of his age, he has helped to provide bread for a hungry world,” Nobel Peace Prize chairman Aase Lionaes said when he awarded Borlaug the prize in 1970.
“We still have a large number of miserable, hungry people and this contributes to world instability,” Borlaug said in 2006. “Human misery is explosive, and you better not forget that.”
No joke. Fighting over scarce land and pastures in Central Africa underpins overlapping conflicts that have killed hundreds of thousands of people in the past decade and displaced millions. More than anything, Central Africa needs to grow more food on less land. That would ease tensions and create space for political reconciliation.
The U.N. knows this. In Gore, in southern Chad, the High Commissioned for Refugees provides agricultural advice to local farmers, both natives and refugees, in a bid to boost food production. “The toughest thing for farmers’ self-sufficiency is access to land,” UNHCR’s Boubacar Amadou told me last year in Chad. “Really, each family needs 2.5 hectares. Right now the average in Gore is just 1.3 hectares. So we have tried to introduce better production systems.”
For instance, we’re trying to introduce the farmers to “rest crops,” to take better advantage of the land. Many refugees grow rice, but it requires lots of fertilizer and depletes the land, so you need rest crops between rice harvests that can restore the land. Also, we’ve introduced “kitchen gardens” for growing small batches of vegetables. The refugees love these.
If you ask me, it’s not just about the quantity of land. It’s about the methods of production. You can get more out of land if you use good processes. With the right methods, you can be self-sufficient.
Borlaug’s and Amadou’s efforts haven’t created peace in Central Africa — at least not yet. But things would be twice as bad without them.
(Photo: David Axe)
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