Taking the first steps: while the rest of the world has availed itself of scientific advances to triple its food production, Africa's output is stagnating. It imports more food than it grows and three quarters of its farmland is degraded. But, as Anver Versi reports, the first step has been taken in launching the continent's Green Revolution.

Position:AFRICA LAUNCHES GREEN REVOLUTION - Cover story

It is self-evident, and history supports this without qualification, that no people can develop themselves to their full capacity without a surplus of food.

The earliest civilisations of the world--those centred around the Nile valley, the Euphrates basin and the Gangetic plains--came about because the populations of those regions had learnt how to cultivate on a scale large enough to produce surplus grain that could be stored.

Once a society possesses surplus food, it can afford to release labour for other activities such as the making of useful objects and the development of skills not directly involved in producing food.

From this one phenomenon, that of surplus food production, flowed all the other benefits of civilisation--writing, sciences, social and political organisations, markets, cities, learning, manufacturing, trade and steadily improving standards of living.

In more recent times, Europe's industrial revolution was preceeded by an agrarian revolution; the industrialisation of Europe in turn allowed the application of machinery and other sciences to increase the production of food. The wealth of the US and Canada is still underpinned by those countries' vast output of food.

China and India wallowed in poverty when their production of food was insufficient for their needs; now, with their successful green revolutions behind them, they are rapidly joining the ranks of the most powerful economies on Earth.

Now look at the situation in Africa. It is the only continent on which famine is still a regular occurrence. One third of Africa's population of close to a billion people is malnourished--that means over 300m people do not have enough to eat on a day-to-day basis. Africa as a whole imports more food than it produces. Yet 60% of Africa's population is directly engaged in agriculture. As Michael Foster, director of the Sasakawa-Global (SG 2000) programme in Uganda puts it: "You cannot be on a farm and importing food!"

Africa is the only continent on which food yields have stagnated. Between 1962 and 2004, yield per hectare in sub-Saharan Africa remained virtually the same at one ton per hectare; in contrast, over the same period, yield per hectare in Latin America more than doubled; it has increased over threefold in Asia and almost doubled to over four tons per hectare in developed countries.

But to really put these figures in perspective, in 1962 Africa produced about 0.75t per hectare while the developed world produced around...

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