Is Africa underpopulated?

Anne Perkins, Guardian
Is Mo Ibrahim right to say that a growing population is necessary for future prosperity?

It was not absolutely clear whether it was a moment to cheer or cry. In December, shortly after the participants in a UN conference on family planning had broken up in Kampala, Africa’s billionth baby was born. In a continent apparently wracked with all the ills of over-population – hunger, poverty and shocking maternal and neo-natal mortality – it might appear a harbinger of disaster.

For within 40 years, that number could almost double. How then could Africa hope to feed itself, let alone find work and livelihoods for so many? …

Africa’s billionth baby, the doom mongers predicted would, if he survived to adulthood, only perish in one of the coming resource wars fought over land or water or oil or minerals, or simply fall victim to the unvarying instability that trails in the wake of over-population.

But there is a counter argument: each new baby is another consumer – and modern economic growth is driven by demand. The billionth baby is the engine of future prosperity.

That’s what Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese-born British businessman and philanthropist, believes. “Africa is underpopulated. We have 20% of the world’s landmass and 13% of its population.” It is big, concentrated populations that have contributed to explosive economic growth rates in China and India.

… Mo Ibrahim may be right that a growing population is necessary for future prosperity. But without a sharp fall in the rate of growth, it looks as if getting to it will be a painful journey.
(24 March 2010)

Zambia’s farming revolution poster boy

Kieron Humphrey, BBCNews
Yet he has appeared on the front page of a national newspaper and been interviewed for numerous radio and television programmes.

What explains his fame?

Mr Mumba grows maize and groundnuts on his small plot of land in Shimabala, just south of Lusaka.
Feeding his family used to be a problem.

“The yield was very little. We were always looking for hand-outs; we had to rely on relief food.”

Quiet agricultural revolution
Like many farmers, Mr Mumba had no oxen of his own to plough his field.

He had to wait in line to hire some, which meant he often failed to plant as soon as the first rains fell – with disastrous consequences.

Researchers say that for each day’s delay, the potential yield shrinks by between 1% and 2%.
Then, in 1997, Mr Mumba suddenly found himself in the vanguard of a quiet agricultural revolution.

His wife had been given free training in a system called conservation farming, and persuaded him to try it.

Conservation farming is about doing less to get more. Instead of ploughing entire fields, farmers till and plant in evenly spaced basins.

Only a tenth of the land area is disturbed.

This reduces erosion and run-off – where soil and nutrients are washed away by rain.

…Using just a wide-bladed traditional chaka hoe, Mr Mumba had dug a series of shallow rectangular planting basins in his field during the dry season.

It was a tough job to break the sun-baked soil, but he persevered, and was ready to sow his seed with the first rains.

…Easier and easier
Across the country there are more than 160,000 farmers using basins or other minimum tillage methods, including large-scale commercial farmers.

For big or small, the principles are the same:

  • disturb the soil as little as possible
  • use natural processes as well as fertiliser to replenish its nutrients
  • leave crop residue in situ rather than burning it off
  • rotate crops

…Protruding at regular intervals above Mr Mumba’s crop are the thorny branches of young musango trees.

Also called winterthorn or ana tree, this unusual acacia sheds its leaves just as the first rains fall, creating a nitrogen- and nutrient-rich carpet.

When mature, Mr Mumba’s musangos will act as an organic fertiliser factory, and reduce his expenditure on artificial inputs.

Zambia’s Conservation Farming Unit is not just promoting the musango’s potential for fertilising the soil.

It says the tree could play an important role in combating deforestation, both through planting programmes and by reducing the need for farmers to slash and burn new areas to access fertile soil…
(6 April 2010)
Find out more about conservation farming here.

Africa’s banking laws shut out the poor: Yunus

Frank Nyakairu, Reuters
Lack of microcredit laws in many African countries is denying millions of the continent’s poor access to loans, a Nobel Prize winner Mohammad Yunus, said on Tuesday.

Yunus, who won a Nobel Prize in 2006 for championing Microcredit, tiny loans to the poor in Bangladesh, is now pioneering an idea he calls “social business” as a way to fight poverty around the world — business not for profit but to solve social problems.

“To create a new kind of bank, which works with the poor people, we need new legislation but in most of the countries in Africa that legislation has not taken place, so we have left microcredit scenario to the NGOs,” Yunus told Reuters in an interview.

Nicknamed the “banker to the poor,” Yunus started his movement 30 years ago with a $27 loan to women in Chittagong, Bangladesh.

It has mushroomed and delivered millions of tiny loans to poor people who do not have access to mainstream banking.

“People are ready in Africa there is no problem with the people it’s a question of institutional and conceptual arrangement and microcredit could be wonderful social business,” he said.

Yunus is attending an annual microcredit summit in Kenya, where Africa’s microfinance institutions hope to emulate the success and growth of the industry in Asia, which hosts more than 80 percent of the world’s 150 million microfinance beneficiaries.

“African women are very active compared to any women anywhere in the world and micro credits have the best chance of succeeding in Africa particularly in women but the financing is never brought to them,” he said.

…Since winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 jointly with Grameen Bank, the microcredit organization he founded, he has committed his portion of the $1 million prize money to developing social businesses and is trying to change the way the world views helping the poor.

He said the global financial crisis that hit western economies hardest, showed that the world needed to embrace social business as well.

“Let’s make it two models, profit maximising business and also social business, business to change the world. If we don’t redesign the global economy, we risk to fall in that trap again,” he said.
(6 April 2010)