Ending hunger in Africa through science-based policies


Pedro Sanchez

Pedro Sanchez
9 June, 2010

Why you should listen

Replenishing soil fertility, is the primary biophysical requirement for eliminating hunger in tropical Africa. Without soil replenishment, even the best crop varieties and the most enlightened policies cannot stave off hunger. It was not until the start of the twenty-first century that the advice of soil scientists was placed squarely in the policy arena. Today, the goal of an African green revolution can be quantified as increasing cereal grain yields from one to three tons per hectare by 2020, primarily through the use of mineral and organic fertilizers and high-yielding crop cultivars, and by empowering farmers with the latest agronomic knowledge and enabling them to sell their produce profitably. Proof that a green revolution can be achieved in Africa is in the 80 Millennium Villages spread throughout tropical Africa, and in one entire country, Malawi. The initial gains seen in the Millennium Villages and Malawi are similar to those seen at the start of the Asian green revolution. Now they have to be consolidated by introducing nitrogen fixing trees in situ using financial stimuli. The ongoing development of a high-resolution digital soil map of Africa will enable farmers to pinpoint which forms of mineral and organic fertilizers are needed in each field, as well as which leguminous trees or nitrogen-fixing crops to use. Once cereal crop yields have surpassed the three-tons-per-hectare mark part of the land can be used to grow high-value crops such as vegetables, fruits and timber, or to provide forage for dairy production. Luckily, with higher yields comes a more efficient use of soil moisture. At current African yields, about two-thirds of soil moisture is lost via soil evaporation. But when cereal yields rise to three tons/ha two-thirds is funnelled through the plants as transpiration. So even where climate change brings reduced rainfall, the green revolution can carry on.

Pedro Sanchez is the Director of the Tropical Agriculture and the Rural Environment Program, Senior Research Scholar, and Director of the Millennium Villages Project at the Earth Institute at Columbia University. Sanchez was Director General of the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF) headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya from 1991-2001, and served as Co-chair of the UN Millennium Project Hunger Task Force. He is also Professor Emeritus of Soil Science and Forestry at North Carolina State University.

Sanchez received his BS, MS and PhD degrees in soil science from Cornell University. His professional career has been dedicated to help eliminate world hunger and absolute rural poverty while protecting and enhancing the tropical environment. He is the author ofProperties and Management of Soils of the Tropics (rated among the top 10 best-selling books in soil science world-wide), co-author of Halving Hunger: It can be done and of over 250 scientific publications.

He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Society of Agronomy, Soil Science Society of America, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Sanchez is the 2002 World Food Prize laureate and 2004 MacArthur Fellow.

Professor Pedro Sanchez was a guest of the University of Sydney Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources for their Centenary Celebrations 2010