Posts Tagged ‘Daniel Bornstein’


New Rice for Africa: Shades of Both a Green Revolution and Food Sovereignty

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Daniel Bornstein is a junior at Dartmouth College majoring in Anthropology and Environmental Studies. A contributor to Nourishing the Planet and, he is currently studying in the Gambia with St. Mary’s College of Maryland’s Promoting Educational and Cultural Exchange program.

The New Rice for Africa variety has become part of the debate over whether a Green Revolution is the best approach to ensure food security in Africa (Photo Credit: Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research)

JAMBUR, The Gambia—The dissemination of the high-yielding New Rice for Africa (NERICA) seeds has sparked contention that is a microcosm for a central debate in global agricultural development: does Africa need its own Green Revolution, an effort that 50 years ago saw dramatic productivity increases through the use of new crop technologies in Asia and Latin America?

NERICA, developed by 2004 World Food Prize winner Dr. Monty Jones, is being promoted by the Africa Rice Center mainly in West African countries where rice is a staple food. It is a cross between an Asian variety, responsible for the high yield, and an African variety, which ensures its local adaptability.

West African governments have touted NERICA as a hallmark of a new Green Revolution and as a path to boosting rice self-sufficiency, especially after the 2008 food price spike exposed the dangers of import dependence. On the other side, advocates of “food sovereignty”—centered on farmers’ control over food systems—have voiced strong opposition. The advocacy organization GRAIN has labeled NERICA a “trap for small farmers” who will become vulnerable to expensive chemical fertilizers and seeds, a situation widely cited by critics of the 1960s Green Revolution.

What I’ve found in Jambur, which in 2002 became the first Gambian village to access the new crop, is a much more nuanced picture, one that in fact incorporates elements of each side of the debate. This suggests what a tactical misstep it would be for food sovereignty loyalists to completely remove themselves from engaging with a new variety just because it has become embedded in the discourse of a new Green Revolution.

I have observed, in one respect, an outcome that reveals the dangers of making small-scale farmers dependent on high-input seeds: the expensive price of chemical fertilizer. Farmers here say that in most years they have applied fertilizer at the rate of 4 bags of NPK and 2 of urea per hectare, the amount recommended to them by the National Agricultural Research Institute. But this year fertilizer’s price has jumped and they are cutting back usage by more than half, and seeing yields shrink as a result.

Here lies the problem with the notion that higher yields alone will end hunger in developing countries. A standard mantra talks about addressing the “yield gap” whereby resource-poor farmers are achieving lower yields than farmers of the same crop in the world’s most productive regions. But the yield difference is due in large part to the inability of African farmers to access the very inputs that enable such high production in wealthy countries. So boosting yields simply to close a “yield gap” may involve jeopardizing farmers’ own livelihoods, which is not the right path for agricultural development, especially since it is small farmers themselves who are the most vulnerable population.

Despite that downside, alternative food movements can find in NERICA a characteristic that is a pillar of their agenda: ‘seed sovereignty,’ or farmers’ right to save their own seeds, as opposed to having to purchase seeds. Unlike the hybrid seeds of the Green Revolution, farmers can harvest and re-plant NERICA every season. In Jambur, they are trained on how to harvest the highest quality seeds by the village’s resident farmer expert on NERICA, Omar Bojang, who claims that “nobody in The Gambia knows more about NERICA” than himself—a sign of the farmer-to-farmer knowledge dissemination that, it turns out, is also a top priority of food sovereignty folks. So as outspoken critical voices invoke Vandana Shiva’s notions of “biopiracy” to warn about the African Green Revolution’s erosion of farmers’ control over seeds, we would do well to remember that this simply doesn’t apply to NERICA.

If the movement for a new model for global agriculture becomes intent on attacking anything that has ever been praised by proponents of an African Green Revolution, then it risks missing opportunities to influence the implementation of new varieties in ways that benefit small-scale farmers. Nowhere is this idea better encapsulated than in anthropologist Glenn Stone’s concept of a “science of the gray.”

“This is an odd corner for researchers ethically committed to the welfare of Third World farmers to have painted themselves into—opposing potentially beneficial agricultural strategies or technologies because they might impede a complete transformation of the agricultural system,” Stone writes in a 2005 article. “If the complete transformation never comes, one has relinquished the ability to mitigate the excesses of the extant system.”

Applying this wisdom to NERICA, we must realize that the thrust toward another Green Revolution, associated as it is with some of the most powerful institutions in the world, isn’t going away any time soon. But there are ways to “mitigate the excesses”—pushing for more research on agro-ecological production, and training farmers in seed production and in farmer-to-farmer dissemination.

I’ve heard the argument from activists that playing by the rules of the pro-Green Revolution institution risks co-optation and ultimately dissolution of reform movements. But I’d say that contributing to the prevailing system—no matter how strongly you disagree with its underlying ideals—can actually raise the profile of alternative models, if only because you’re given the space to demonstrate their success.

So as the debate over an African Green Revolution continues to rage, it’s important to keep in mind that the reality will almost certainly lay in the “gray” area, rather than exactly matching one side’s ideological perspective.

In your own work, where have you encountered examples of the “gray” area that may characterize new agricultural technologies? Share them with us in the comment section below.



A Fundamentally Transformed Model for Global Agriculture to Prioritize Nutrition

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By Daniel Bornstein

Daniel Bornstein is a student at Dartmouth College interested in global food security. He has written columns on international development issues for, the Merrick Herald (Merrick, N.Y.), and College News Magazine. He was named a national semifinalist in the 2010 Intel Science Talent Search for his research on poplar’s viability as a biofuel—a potential alternative to the corn-based ethanol that drives up world food prices. Daniel, a native of Merrick, NY, graduated as salutatorian from John F. Kennedy-Bellmore High School.

This month’s 2nd African Organic Conference in Lusaka, Zambia brought together 300 participants from over 40 countries under the theme “Mainstreaming Organic Agriculture in the African Development Agenda.” The resulting Lusaka Declaration established a six-pillar action plan for the full realization of organic farming, which it emphasized must involve serious political will on the part of national governments and regional organizations.

Linking farmers to international and national policy processes will be crucial to asserting local control over food systems. (Photo credit: La Via Campesina)

International institutions and donor countries have prided themselves on the renewed investment in agricultural development since 2008, when riots in three dozens countries due to high food prices provided a wake-up call about the fragile state of the global agriculture situation. These new investments must be evaluated in terms of whether they work toward ushering in a fundamentally different model for agriculture, or whether they simply occur within the prevailing context of industrial agriculture—a point often made by UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Olivier De Schutter. Bringing nutrition to the forefront must be a central part of such a transformed global food system.

Agro-ecological approaches—relying on nitrogen-fixing crops, composting, manure, and other practices—offer a great potential to raise the profile of nutrition. Farmers’ production of a diversity of crops can make available the various nutrients essential for healthy diets.

This requires challenging the longstanding notion that higher yields are what will end hunger. The 1960s Green Revolution, which deployed new crop technologies toIndiaandLatin America, targeted major commodity crops such as maize, wheat and rice. But its package of highly capital-intensive industrial agriculture was detrimental to the poorest farmers, and it neglected the locally-available crops considered important for human nutrition.

“The Green Revolution’s focus was just on a few crops: rice, wheat, and maize, which are not particularly nutritious,” said Molly Anderson, the Partridge Chair in Food and Sustainable Agriculture Systems at the College of theAtlantic. “You can deal with caloric malnutrition and protein malnutrition with those crops, but a lot of nutritional deficiencies are vitamins and minerals, and focusing on a few major grain crops won’t help with that.”



Achieving Agricultural Development through Capacity Building for African Higher Education

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By Peter McPherson and Daniel Bornstein

Peter McPherson is the President of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and former USAID administrator. Daniel Bornstein is a sophomore at Dartmouth College majoring in Anthropology.

USAID administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah emphasized the pivotal role of U.S. universities in confronting global food insecurity during a speech in November before the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. There is no better way to integrate capacity building with agricultural development than by bringing African higher education to the forefront. For years, African universities have fed agriculture graduates into urban-based bureaucracies, detaching them from the urgent rural development issues facing their countries. African leaders now need to transform these universities so that they produce the knowledge and the human capacity needed to directly confront the issues of food security.

The U.S.-Africa Higher Education Initiative's efforts have resulted in USAID awarding partnerships linking U.S. and African universities . (Image credit: Higher Education for Development)

The need for action is urgent: there are nearly one billion hungry people in the world today, disproportionately in sub-Saharan Africa. Food production will have to grow by 70 percent, even in the face of the challenges of climate change, if the planet is to feed more than 9 billion people by 2050. Yet development assistance for African higher education has dropped dramatically since the 1980s.

Rekindling U.S. government support for African higher education meshes perfectly with the Feed the Future initiative, the Obama administration’s comprehensive plan for fighting global hunger. Feed the Future provides an opportunity for African universities to emerge as national bastions of research and training, well-geared to local economic and social circumstances. The coordination of research, training, and extension—which in the U.S. has been achieved over the past 150 years through land-grant universities—will be crucial to this effort.



How Wealthy Nations Drive Food Insecurity

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By Daniel Bornstein

Daniel Bornstein is a sophomore at Dartmouth College interested in global food security. He has written columns on international development issues for, the Merrick Herald (Merrick, N.Y.), and College News Magazine. He was named a national semifinalist in the 2010 Intel Science Talent Search for his research on poplar’s viability as a biofuel—a potential alternative to the corn-based ethanol that drives up world food prices. Daniel, a native of Merrick, NY, graduated as salutatorian from John F. Kennedy-Bellmore High School.

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Biofuels have become interlinked with investor land grabbing, which deprives locals of precious farmland. (Photo credit:

World leaders can talk all they want about the need for investments in agricultural productivity in Africa, but food insecurity will only worsen unless countries confront this harsh reality: wealthy countries’ land use strategies only increase the vulnerability of the world’s poorest people, and our global food system neglects the human right to food and favors capitalist wealth accumulation. Countries have responded to resource scarcity and climate change through biofuel production, land grabbing, and the United Nation’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation program (REDD) — all signs of the injustices embedded in the international politics of food.

U.S. farmers have diverted cropland toward fuel production, driving up global food prices. We have already seen the disastrous impact on poor countries: Demand for biofuels played a role in the 2008 food price spike that spurred riots in over 30 countries. Amidst the effort to wean America off oil, the entrenched farm lobby found in biofuels another way for its farmers to profit by marginalizing developing countries. It is as if generous subsidies to American farmers — which enable them to sell their surplus cheaply on the international market — were not enough.