Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Fund 164.5 Million Dollar Grant7th March, 2011
The Bill and Malinda Gates Foundation has funded a 164.5 million-dollar grant to AGRA in order to increase crop yields in Sub-Saharan Africa and counteract desertification.
Desertification is the rapid degradation of soil in semi-arid ecosystems, particularly in developing regions of the world such as Central Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Latin America. Sub-Saharan Africa has been affected most severely. The semi-arid eco-system, without human influence, is only able to sustain a limited amount of life and vegetation due to sparse rainfall, however the population explosion over the last 200 years has placed unprecedented pressure on these landscapes. Currently new deserts are being created at a rate of 20,000 square miles per year, transforming agriculturally useful swaths of land into barren desert, exacerbating starvation in the region, creating mass migration of people within the effected areas, and contributing to massive dust storms. The Hunger site estimates that 24,000 people die every day from starvation. Infant mortality rates in semi-arid developing regions are 10 times as high as those in industrialized nations and its estimated that 50 million people could be displaced over the next decade due to desertification.
Desertification is caused simply by mismanagement of soil. The key to healthy, nutrient rich soil is humus. Humus is created through the decomposition of vegetation and animals, placing key nutrients such as nitrogen back into the earth. Deforestation for fuel, large herds of stagnant cattle, and over farming are the culprits for desertification. These practices all stop the reintroduction of nutrients into the soil.
The good news is that desertification can be reversed. Between 2007 and 2013 the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation will contribute 164.5 million dollars to The Alliance for a Green Africa or (AGRA) in order to fight desertification and increase crop yields. Through the use of mineral fertilizers and education on soil management, AGRA hopes to transform the lost land. The grant aspires to positively affect 4.1 million households in the region. According to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,
“This grant supports AGRA’s work with farmers throughout sub-Saharan Africa on advanced soil management methods and with policymakers to create incentives for better soil management. This builds on a major grant to AGRA in 2007 that is already helping develop and distribute quality seeds for African small farmers on a large scale.
The grant will also help AGRA build the fertilizer supply chain to increase farmers’ access to fertilizer and other inputs. The goal is to help 4.1 million farm households increase their yields by 50 to 100 percent.”
If you’re interested in more information, visit the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation website. AGRA has also produced an excellent short video that dives further into their program, visit at AGRA Soil Health Program.
Between 1930-1936 the United States and parts of Canada experienced severe desertification in what is now known as the Dust Bowl. Draught and extensive farming without regard to soil management transformed the semi-arid Great Plains into a dry wasteland. This spurred a mass migration of farmers from East to West, particularly to California. The Roosevelt administration acted by planting more than 200 million trees and began educating farmers on improved agricultural practices. The revitalization of these areas is a testament to the fact that desertification can be reversed.