Could Africa feed the world?

Paul Raven @ 29-07-2011

Those of you of a similar age to myself will almost certainly remember a song about feeding the world; part of the world that needed feeding at the time was sub-Saharan Africa, and sadly that is still the case in some locations (as well as in places on other continents). But is it possible that Africa could feed not only itself but the rest of the world as well? Kanayo Nwanze, the president of the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development, seems to think it can:

Nwanze drew a sharp contrast between Gansu province, in northwest China, and parts of Africa that cannot feed itself. He said like many parts of the world, Gansu suffers from frequent drought, limited water for irrigation and severe soil erosion. Yet despite the weather and the harsh environment, the farmers in the Gansu programme area are feeding themselves and increasing their incomes.

“I met one farmer whose income had risen from only $2 (£1.20) a day in 2006 to $35 a day last year,” he exclaimed.

So when asked why this could be done in China but not Africa, Nwanze said the vital difference was government policy.

“What I saw in Gansu was the result of government policy to invest in rural areas and to reduce the gap between the rural and the urban and stem migration,” he said in a telephone interview. “It has a very harsh environment, it has only 300 millimetres of rain annually, compared to parts of the Sahel which gets 400-600 millimetres, but the government has invested in roads and electricity. We found a community willing to transform their lives by harvesting rainwater, using biogas, terracing mountain slopes. There are crops for livestock, they are growing vegetables, wheat and maize, and generating income that allows them to build resilience.”

While Somalia is a worst-case scenario, Nwanze continues, in Ethiopia and Djibouti there has been a lack of long-term investment that makes them vulnerable to climate change. “It is not enough to wait for crisis to turn to disaster to act. The rains will fail again, but governments have not invested in the ability of populations to resist drought.”

Nwanze argues that Africa is facing the fallout of decades of neglecting agriculture, a fault that lies with African governments and aid donors.

Mismanagement and climate change to blame, rather than some fundamental property of the continent itself? A Chinese province used as an exemplar of rural land development? Unthinkable! These are backward nations, desperately in need of the guiding hand of corporate capitalism and parliamentary democracy! </sarcasm>

I rather like imagining a future where Africa becomes an arable breadbasket with an economic boom based on mobile and wireless technologies. After all, it’s not looking any less likely than the so-called First World pulling its collective finger out of the arse of the investment banking sector, now is it?


Affetto: Child of the Uncanny Valley

Paul Raven @ 15-02-2011

You can thank IEE Spectrum and a bunch of roboticists from Osaka University for this excursion into the Uncanny Valley. Meet Affetto, a robot child designed for research into social development psychology. The fully-skinned version is moderately disturbing:

But the skinless facial motion test? Aaaaaaaarrrrgh!

And now I’ve been reminded of it (and we’re all in that creeped-out-by-supposedly-cuddly-technology frame of mind), bring some nineties-retro toy-based trauma to your Tuesday with the naked Furby orchestra:

Bonus material: mechanical “FurbyGurdy” sequencer/synth with MIDI control.

Enjoy your nightmares!


The Courage to Suck

Luc Reid @ 04-08-2010

It seems that the best thing that ever happened to Harper Lee as a writer was also the worst thing that ever happened to Harper Lee as a writer.

In 1956, Lee received a gift of a year’s wages from friends who told her to “write whatever you please.” Let’s take a moment now for intense jealousy. All done? OK, let’s see what happened next.

Sucked into a hole...

Continue reading “The Courage to Suck”


Playing Our Way To the Future: Consumer Science and Technology goes Military

Brenda Cooper @ 10-02-2010

Last month, I spoke at a United States Army Training and Doctrine Command event billed as a mad scientist conference. That was actually quite an honor, and I enjoyed it more than I expected to, even though it was hard to spend three days thinking about threats based on new technology. I’ve got a blog entry up at my regular site that talks more about the conference, but suffice it to say I’ve been thinking about the military and science/science fiction. In the way of all attractive coincidences, I was also recently asked to write a military science fiction story. All that, and I’m basically a pacifist! Continue reading “Playing Our Way To the Future: Consumer Science and Technology goes Military”


Psychohistory in the real world

Tom James @ 28-07-2009

crowdResearchers at Indiana University believe that it may be possible to create a real-life version of Isaac Asimov’s concept of psychohistory:

Much as meteorologists predict the path and intensity of hurricanes, Indiana University’s Alessandro Vespignani believes we will one day predict with unprecedented foresight, specificity and scale such things as the economic and social effects of billions of new Internet users in China and India, or the exact location and number of airline flights to cancel around the world in order to halt the spread of a pandemic.

Psychohistory as described by Isaac Asimov holds that “while one cannot foresee the actions of a particular individual, the laws of statistics as applied to large groups of people could predict the general flow of future events.”

This certainly seems similar to the ideas of reality mining discussed here:

Vespignani writes that advances in complex networks theory and modeling, along with access to new data, will enable humans to achieve true predictive power in areas never before imagined. This capability will be realized as the one wild card in the mix — the social behavior of large aggregates of humans — becomes more definable through progress in data gathering, new informatics tools and increases in computational power.

It is an exciting direction, and offers the possibility of a black-swan style technological breakthrough. With improved data, through things like spimes and ubiquitous computing, combined with improved data processing techniques and communications there exists the possibility for a new and powerful way of studying, monitoring, and even controlling social and technological developments with precision.

[via Next Big Future][image from woodleywonderworks on flickr]


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