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How improved farming could make a big difference for Africas poor
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While the United Nations will meet this week to set new benchmarks for eradicating poverty, its targets overlook an area, improvement of agriculture, that many believe could make the biggest difference for Africa's development. - photo by Daniel Bendtsen
The United Nations is meeting this week to set new benchmarks on eradicating extreme poverty. Sub-Saharan Africa will, yet again, be a particular concern. While many anti-poverty conversations revolve around technological and industrial development, The Economist magazine makes the case that it's the continent's agriculture sector that needs attention.

It should be possible to grow much more in Africa, the magazine argued. The continent has about half of the worlds uncultivated arable land and plenty of people to work it. It is true that erratic rainfall adds to the risks of farming on large parts of the savannah, but switching to drought-tolerant varieties of plants or even to entirely different ones cassava or sorghum instead of maize, for instancecan mitigate much of this problem.

The Economist contends that African leaders have been too focused on industrial development, taxing crop exports to subsidize other industries. But farmers are the continents poorest class, and agriculture currently has the highest potential to advance Africa in the 21st century, the magazine says.

Africas percentage of world food exports are a quarter of what they were in 1990. To a large degree, the rest of the world has advanced its farming techniques while Africa hasnt improved its output.

A booming population with increased droughts is also increasing the need for farm advancements, according to Kenyan newspaper The EastAfrican.

Land degradation and poor soil fertility are only compounding this issue.

The average yield of cereals like rice and wheat in sub-Saharan Africa has remained low compared with other regions at about one tonne per hectare, while in India, it is about two-and-a-half tonnes, and in China it is more than three tonnes per hectare, The EastAfrican reported.

Improving African knowledge of soil fertility basic to Western farmers is an issue that Cornell University professor Rachel Bezner Kerr has worked to improve.

Kerr wrote in Australian publication The Conversation that pesticides and fertilizers are a luxury at this point, but even low-tech solutions to combat drought make a big difference.

She said that that African farmers need help show them farming practices that mimic nature by adding organic material to soil, planting trees on cropped fields and using natural enemies to attack insect pests. Largely underfunded, this is nonetheless a growing scientific field.

Israel is currently hoping to woo Africa through assistance of drip-irrigation, water recycling and desalination, according to Business Day. Israel which currently advises Senegal faces many of the drought issues that Africa does, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanhayu said he wants to expand support for other nations.

To become a net exporter, Africa's agriculture sector faces some market hurdles. Other farmers, especially in the U.S., receive subsidies that drive down prices. The Department of Agriculture also announced this last week that it will work to expand export opportunities in Africa.