Sub-Saharan Africa's agricultural yields are among the lowest in the world, and nearly one-third of its people are malnourished. That much, tragically, is well established. Less clear are the reasons Africa's farm output remains depressed despite hands-on work and billions of dollars invested by individuals, organizations and governments. News reports often explore specific aspects of the problem such as drought. This series takes the novel approach of looking at intertwined tensions underlying the many problems. Through stories told across the continent, Sharon Schmickle focus on several key themes:
- Africa is caught in an ideological struggle over the nature and scope of agriculture with European—and, sometimes, American—organizations pitted against agribusiness and many agricultural scientists.
- Institutions have failed African farmers. Public and private agencies often work at cross purposes, neglecting to follow through on crop-saving opportunities. Investments in research and agricultural extension have been inadequate.
- Scientists have made impressive gains against the scourges that threaten crops. But they risk losing their breakthroughs against malnutrition, crop-destroying pests and drought if they overlook local tastes and customs.
The series, which also incorporates the work of local journalists, begins with an overview of Tanzania where government officials are divided in the global ideological standoff. Despite a government initiative called Kilimo Kwanza (Farmers First), many farmers lack access to the improved seeds and tissue cultures that could help them thwart yield-stealing diseases and pests. And many farmers are so locked into practices of the past that change comes hard if at all.