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How to Increase Corn Yields in Africa?

How to Increase Corn Yields in Africa?

02 August 2012

ANALYSIS - DuPont Pioneer sees a huge opportunity to support yield growth opportunities in African nations, but said it's not just about the seed - Africa needs to start with the soil, writes Sarah Mikesell, TheCropSite senior editor.

"In Africa, it's a whole different beast that requires starting from square one," said Dan Jacobi, DuPont Pioneer VP for ACEA (Asia Pacific, China, Europe, Africa).

The opportunity for Africa starts first with amending and improving the soil and effectively using fertilizers, then moving to hybrid seed, he said. Africa has 24 million hectares but only about one-third - about 8 million hectares -- is actually hybrid. Needless to say, GM acceptance is not our top priority in Africa right now, he said.

"If you just start selling drought-tolerant seed into that market, it's going to be - so what? Because all these other things are not being done," he said. "This was the big takeaway of the DuPont Advisory Committee on Ag Innovation of the 21st Century, known as the Daschle Committee. There's a whole range of things we need to do in Africa - from improving basic agronomic practices, to having infrastructure in the form of grain storage and much more."

Today, African farmers can harvest, but they've got no place to store their grain. So they have to sell it right then and there at harvest time, when supply is the highest and prices are at their lowest.

"There are no silos, no farm-to-market roads and no credit, or at least not enough to really allow them to grow their operations," Jacobi said. "There is very little organized agricultural extension services. Farmers are also very small and they're not organized into cooperatives of any kind that would give them buying power."

The most interesting thing about the African situation is that every one of those issues is an issue that the US has had and addressed - it just happened about 150 years ago, he said.

While the US harvests about 10 metric tons/hectare (about 160 bushels/acre), Sub-Saharan Africa harvests only about 1.5 to 2 metric tons/hectare (20-30 bu/acre).

"The challenge and the opportunity of Africa -- it's stuff we know how to do, we just need to do it," he said.

Political Support in Africa

Political support for agriculture varies significantly country to country, Jacobi said.

"There are countries like Ethiopia that are very much committed to their farmers," he said. "Then there are countries like Zimbabwe that have been known to make decisions counter to agricultural productivity in order to keep political power."

A lot of the African governments rely on revenue from extraction, meaning mining, and the development of some of the basic agricultural infrastructure components.

"You can be driving down the road in Zambia, and see a farm-to-market road in the middle of nowhere. Our guy will say, "Down there is a poultry confinement operation with 200,000 head of chicken," and you think 'holy cow'," he said. "The transition of the Africa agricultural industry is going on right now. And the Chinese and others will come in and invest very heavily in roads, hotels, and industry to help drive that transition."

The political dynamics in Africa are hugely challenging and have frustrated people for many, many generations, but Jacobi said it's hard not to be optimistic, because the need is so great and the opportunity is so clear.

This is the third article is a series on DuPont Pioneer's global seed business. Watch for future articles discussing global biotech acceptance and business challenges.

Click here to read the first article in the series - DuPont Pioneer: Megatrend is Driving Global Business.

Click here to read the second article in the series - DuPont Pioneer: Global Opportunities, China Poised for Yield Boost.

Sarah Mikesell, Senior Editor

Sarah Mikesell, Senior Editor

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