The Mandela Legacy

I was watching the news last week when word came that Nelson Mandela had passed away.  A giant of a man and leader he changed the way people think and he changed South Africa.  Once a repressive state ruled by a tyrannical white minority under a system of segregation called Apartheid, Mandela led the African National Congress’ opposition and he spent 27 years as a political prisoner.

Influenced by the non -violent philosophy of Ghandi he successfully led the movement to dismantle Apartheid peacefully and then courageously established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission whose mission was not to punish or take vengeance.

I’m old enough to remember the movements here for divestiture.  This was a way to put pressure on South Africa by forcing investors, pension plans and endowments to sell their investments in South Africa.  Students on college campuses led sit-ins and demonstrations to convince their Boards of Trustees and others to divest themselves of stock, bonds and other South African related investments.  When legislation was passed in Congress enacting trade sanctions the bill was vetoed by President Reagan and leading American racists like Jesse Helms and Dick Cheney led the fight for the white government of South Africa.

Justice prevailed however and Nelson Mandela was elected President of that nation after it reorganized.  He passed away after a long and very distinguished life having touched souls all around the globe.  Rest well Mandiba, you’ve earned it.

Finding ‘Abundance’ in What is Local

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet.


Richard Haigh runs Enaleni Farm outside Durban, South Africa, raising endangered Zulu sheep, Nguni cattle (a breed indigenous to South Africa that is very resistant to pests), and a variety of fruits and vegetables. Check out this video from my conversation with Richard about his sheep, his garden, and the meaning behind the name of his farm:


Journalism’s Role in Educating Africa About What it Eats

This is the second in a two-part series of my visit to Africa Harvest in Johannesburg, South Africa. Cross posted from Nourishing the Planet.

Daniel Kamanga, the Director of Communications of Africa Harvest, and former journalist, says that journalism in Africa has to overcome many challenges, including a general lack of coverage on agriculture issues-let alone a deeper understanding about who is funding agricultural development in Africa. “No one knows who Bill [Gates] is in Africa,” lamented Kamanga. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is one of the biggest and most influential funders of agricultural development in sub-Saharan Africa. (See Filling a Need for African-Based Reporting on Agriculture).

“You can’t have a revolution in Africa if people aren’t briefed,” says Kamanga, referring to the call for a Green Revolution in Africa by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). Although agriculture makes up about 98 percent of the economy in Kenya, it’s barely covered in the country’s newspapers. And there are not any agricultural editors at any of the newspapers on the entire continent.

But it’s not just a question of reporters having more knowledge, according to Kamanga. It’s also a matter of compensation. African journalists are typically paid very little compared to journalists in other countries. In Burkina Faso, reporters receive just 160 dollars per month. As a result, many journalists see bribes as a way to supplement their income.

Yet with newspaper and media consolidation, fierce competition for advertisers, and lackluster economic conditions in Africa and all over the world, it’s a trend that might only get worse.

Building Knowledge About Biotechnology in Africa

This is the first of a two-part series to Africa Harvest, in Johannesburg, South Africa. Cross posted from Nourishing the Planet.

In our Nourishing the Planet project we’re looking at how farmers and researchers all over the world are combining high-tech and low-tech agricultural practices to help alleviate hunger and poverty. One place they’re trying to do this is at Africa Harvest/Biotech Foundation International. The organization’s mission is “to use science and technology, especially biotechnology, to help the poor in Africa achieve food security, economic well-being and sustainable rural development.”

And while the biotechnology component of their mission may be controversial to some, Africa Harvest is determined that Africa will not be left behind when it comes to the development-and use- of the technology by African researchers and farmers. As a result, the organization is focusing on breeding African crops for Africans. “If you want to make a difference on this continent,” says Daniel Kamanga, communications director for Africa Harvest, “you have to look at African crops.” These include staples such as banana, cassava, and sorghum, which are all important sources of nutrients for millions of Africans.

But these are also crops that are heavily impacted by diseases and pests. Bananas, for example, are susceptible to sigatoka virus, fusarium, weevils, nematodes, and others. To combat these problems, Florence Wambugu, the CEO of Africa Harvest and a scientist who formerly worked with Monsanto, helped develop Tissue Culture Banana (TC banana). Banana diseases are often spread through “unclean” planting material. But TC banana technology allows scientists to use biotechnology for the “rapid and large scale multiplication” of disease free bananas-a single shoot can produce 2,000 individual banana plantlets.

Africa Harvest is also working on biofortifying sorghum with Vitamin A, creating “golden sorghum.”

“But of course, there remains the thorny issue of control-among the biggest stumbling blocks for sharing any technology across countries and regions. Biotechnology has so far been largely owned by the private sector.” So, in addition to researching crop production, Africa Harvest is also working to improve capacity building for scientists all over Africa. “If we’re going to have GMOs on the continent,” says Kamanga, “we want scientists who know how to do it.” Along with that, Africa Harvest is working to strengthen regulatory systems for biotechnology.

And how does Africa Harvest respond to criticism about the development and use of biotechnology in agriculture? According to Kamanga, it’s an “old debate” and one that takes place in 5-star hotels, not in farmers’ fields. The issue now, he says, is how we make the best use of this technology.

In South Africa, Investing In Urban Farming

Cross posted from Nourishing the Planet.

Soweto in Johannesburg, South Africa is most well known as the scene of massive protests and violence under Apartheid. Today, it is place of contradictions. While many of South Africa’s wealthiest citizens live there, it’s also a community plagued by poverty. Many of the residents live in shacks with tin roofs and don’t have running water or electricity. But like the residents of other cities in Africa, including Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi (See Vertical Farms: Finding Creative Ways to Grow Food in Kibera and Farming on the Urban Fringe), the residents of Soweto are growing foods, including cabbage, kale, spinach, and other vegetables in their yards.

While Johannesburg doesn’t have an official policy supporting urban agriculture, the government in Cape Town, South Africa has invested $5 million rand ($671,670 USD) to help the city’s poorest residents grow vegetables and fruits and raise livestock.

Stay tuned for more on urban agriculture as I travel to other cities in sub-Saharan Africa.