News story

Food: Innovative technology to boost African farming

Britain backs new scheme to boost food security and nutrition in Africa through technology

Britain will help millions of poor farmers across Africa to use innovative technology to boost food security through a scheme backed by world leaders, the World Bank and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The new joint initiative will help develop and introduce successful farming and agricultural technology to farmers who need it most. Backed by Britain, Canada, the United States, Italy and Australia, the scheme will harness the creativity of the private sector - such as large grain traders, cereal millers or food processors - by offering funding to help bring tried and tested products to a wider market.

Similar financing has already revolutionised the production and supply of new life-saving vaccines at lower prices in developing countries. Creating a market for tried and tested technologies will help reduce the cost of production and make it easier for companies to deliver them to the poorest farmers.

The scheme will fund three specific pilot projects to transform the use of new crops and help farmers to sell more of their produce. These projects will help farmers in Africa to use vitamin-enriched maize, improve their crop storage and boost incomes and nutritional benefits. Further projects will be set up in coming years.

International Development Minister Andrew Mitchell said:

Far too many creative and successful products have failed to get into the hands of the farmers who need them most. Many promising pieces of agricultural technology have the potential to transform farming, but a lack of investment or a market for their goods prevents them from getting off the drawing board.

Britain will help get innovation out of the science lab and into the hands of the farmers that need it. Building demand for new products and providing incentives to help get them to market will give farmers the tools they need to grow more healthy and sustainable crops.

Britain’s support follows its recent commitment to help 50 million people lift themselves out of poverty over the next 10 years through the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. Britain will build on these commitments by holding a major event on hunger and food security during the London Olympic Games in the UK.

The first three projects will:

Develop, market and distribute improved crop storage to Kenyan farmers: Farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa lose an estimated $1.6 billion of grain every year because they lack adequate protection against insects and pests for harvested crops. As well as straining their already stretched resources, farmers are forced to sell their grain immediately after harvest, losing up to $18 per 90kg bag as the market is flooded with grain. The scheme will help finance the production and distribution of successful schemes.

Help Zambian farmers grow maize rich in Vitamin-A: Vitamin-A deficiency leads to half a million children going blind every year and many more face a higher risk of illness and poor growth. In Zambia alone more than half of under-five children are affected by vitamin-A deficiency. New, conventionally-bred ‘orange maize’ enriched with vitamin-A is being introduced in Zambia. This pilot will incentivise industrial millers to source ‘orange maize’ from farmers and produce and market the grain to consumers. They will provide an advance market commitment to buy the maize, along with incentive payments based on every ton of maize meal sold.

Reduce contamination of maize crops in Nigeria: Aflatoxin fungus is a potent carcinogen which increases the risk of liver cancer in humans and animals and is associated with immune-system suppression, and stunted growth in children. A new biocontrol measure exists which can reduce contamination, however few maize-producing organisations or farmers in Nigeria are aware of the problem. This pilot will jumpstart the market for Aflatoxin-free maize by providing incentives for producers to buy and sell safe crops and raise awareness about the importance of tackling Aflatoxin. An estimated 40 to 60 per cent of Nigeria’s maize has unacceptably high levels of Aflatoxin.

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