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Ask Slashdot: How To Feed Africa? 592

gbrumfiel writes "Africa has some of the poorest soil of anywhere on the earth, and over farming is only making matters worse. As the population grows, governments and NGOs must decide whether to subsidize chemical fertilizers like those used in the west or promote more sustainable agricultural practices. In Malawi, the government has decided to subsidize fertilizers, with impressive results. Corn yields have tripled since the subsidies were introduced. More sustainable practices, such as fertilizer trees can't deliver those kind of results in just a few years. The question is simple: does Africa follow the same, unsustainable road as the rest of the world? Or do they become a testing ground for potentially game-changing new techniques? OR is there a third path? Discuss."
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Ask Slashdot: How To Feed Africa?

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  • by gentryx ( 759438 ) * on Thursday March 29, 2012 @02:24AM (#39505575) Homepage Journal
    "Africa has some of the poorest soils anywhere on the earth". Such a generic statement about a whole continent which contains huge portions of tropical rainforest and grassland is just wrong.
    • by Patch86 ( 1465427 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @02:39AM (#39505671)

      Technically the statement is (or can be) true. There's no reason Africa couldn't have "some of the poorest" AND "some of the richest" soils at the same time.

      A lot of Africa has poor soil, and a lot of the more fertile areas are rainforests which we wouldn't want to advocate burning to the ground to turn into farmland. Africa also has more than a billion people to feed. So the question is still a reasonably valid one- how do you turn the large expanses of infertile wasteland into productive arable land?

    • "Move to where the food is."
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by intok ( 2605693 )
      Rainforests don't make food farmland long term by virtue of them being RAIN forrests, the amount of rain they get in a year quickly washes away the fertile topsoil once it's not being constantly being replenished by new leaf litter. as for the grasslands, they are grasses that are only there for the rainy season, I'd doubt that said land could maintain such a nutrient inefficient crop like corn long term.
    • by wierd_w ( 1375923 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @03:04AM (#39505835)

      Newsflash. Rainforest is terrible soil.

      Newsflash. Africa is suffering desertification, and the grasslands are mostly deep sand.

      Here is what africa needs to do:

      Healthy, fertile arable soil is about 50 parts clay, 20 parts sand, and 30 parts organic sponge. The types of clay in the 50% clay figure are important.

      Parts of africa are loaded with clay and organic sponge. Parts of africa are loaded with sand.

      Get the african nations to stop fighting each other over tarot roots, and get them to ship dirt to each other.

      We have the technology to do this. It isn't hard. The benefits greatly outweigh the costs over time. Chemical fertilizers do not solve the soil nutrition and arability problems. Pouring miracle grow on sand won't help you for long.

      Trade big shipments of river silt (organic sponge), heavy clay, and washed sand. Plow it into unproductive fields that are suffering deficits.

      Watch shit fucking grow.

      • by tibit ( 1762298 )

        +1 insightful. I've never thought of that!

      • by wvmarle ( 1070040 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @03:14AM (#39505893)

        While your solution for soil improvement may be technically correct (though you need lots and lots of shiploads of dirt to make it work), it's commercially impossible.

        The Africans themselves don't have money. Well not entirely true, there is a lot of money, but all in the hands of a few people who are not interested in sharing any of it. Subsidising such activities is difficult, as it's hard to prevent the money to end up in the wrong hands (i.e. those with a lot of money already, and only eager to get more).

        Finally, most Africancs are hungry RIGHT NOW. So they want food on the table RIGHT NOW. An instant solution is needed to solve that issue; only when they are fed RIGHT NOW they will be interested in thinking about being fed tomorrow, next week and next year. Artificial fertiliser can solve that part of the problem, but will need a more longer-term strategy to follow up.

        • by wierd_w ( 1375923 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @03:27AM (#39505961)

          The problem with quick easy fixes, is that people use them, then abuse them, and treat them like permanent ones.

          We nerds in IT should be well aware of this by now. How many "temporary fixes" have your employers twisted into permanent ones?

          Same thing here. There is money to be made. LOTS of money to be made, by *NOT* properly improving the soil. Shafting starving vllagers for miracle grow while the soil's mineral content dries up, leaving them with soil that won't even grow weeds in the rainy season is *VERY* profitable.

          That is why it must be avoided, and done right, if you really want the african people to not suffer.

          • by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @07:35AM (#39507353) Homepage

            How many "temporary fixes" have your employers twisted into permanent ones?

            Hence one of my laws of IT: There ain't no such thing as a "temporary solution" - if it works, it becomes permanent. If it doesn't work, it's not a solution.

        • by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @04:15AM (#39506275)

          Subsidising such activities is difficult, as it's hard to prevent the money to end up in the wrong hands (i.e. those with a lot of money already, and only eager to get more).

          That's why talking about food is useless. It isn't about insufficient food, but poor distribution of food.

          • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @06:42AM (#39507007) Journal
            Want to help fix that? Stop buying Fairtrade products from Africa. Growing export crops (often ones that require a lot of water) takes farmland away from growing food for local consumption, which pushes the price up beyond the reach of the poorest people. I suppose this helps to address the population problem, but not in a particularly humane way.
            • Want to help fix that? Stop buying Fairtrade products from Africa. Growing export crops (often ones that require a lot of water) takes farmland away from growing food for local consumption, which pushes the price up beyond the reach of the poorest people.

              This is so wrong. Staple crops, such as grain, tend to grow poorly in nitrogen depleted tropical soils. Export crops, such as fruit and vegetables, tend to do much better.

              Africa should try to follow the example of southern Mexico. In Chiapas, most farms grew corn on small plots, and it was the poorest state in Mexico. Today, the corn plots have been replaced by mango orchards. The mangoes are exported to the USA, and bring in ten times the income that the corn did. To make tortillas, they buy corn gro

        • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @04:19AM (#39506301) Homepage Journal

          Eat the rich!

      • by hairyfish ( 1653411 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @03:42AM (#39506047)

        Get the african nations to stop fighting each other

        Impossible. I was to going make some comments about the situation there but everything I wrote sounded racist. How do you address the fact that seems to be a clear pattern of behaviour in that continent that doesn't look like it will ever be solved while the locals are in charge?

        • The ask slashdot question was how to solve the soil fertility problem. Not how to solve human nature.

          Humans fight each other over bullshit all the time. Catholics and protestants in ireland. Jews and arabs in the middle east. Vietnamese and laosians. On amd on and on.

          I was asked how to solve the hunger. Creating world peace? Somebody else can solve that one.

        • by pla ( 258480 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @05:09AM (#39506565) Journal

          I was to going make some comments about the situation there but everything I wrote sounded racist. How do you address the fact that seems to be a clear pattern of behaviour in that continent that doesn't look like it will ever be solved while the locals are in charge?

          Race != Culture.

          You want to solve Africa's problems? Take the damned place over and set up a modern Western-style central government.

          Gee, does that sound a bit too much like colonialism? Hey, guess what, Africa's colonial period counts as the only part of its history (post-Egypt, itself an exception due to the Nile and Mediterranean) where it had any meaningful level of economic output. You might argue that it only managed that by exploiting the local populations... But, if others can make money exploiting you, you can "exploit" yourself for the same gain!

          Quit fighting each other over petty crap, clean up the water, focus on better using what resources you have (Yes, parts of Africa has some of the worst soil in the world - It also has enough arable land to feed its entire population with plenty of room for growth), and join the modern world. On the flip side of that, when you regularly make the "look, point, and laugh" headlines for burning witches over stealing your penises... Not a sign of good things to come.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            MFW Ghana, Eritrea are amongst the fastest growing real GDPs in the world. "Quit fighting"? "Join the modern world"? Most of the stunted growth everyone is referring to here is due to an overabundance of liquid assets - food, money, medication - being reappropriated by force and placed into the hands of oppressors; the individuals stuck in these sustained power vacuums can't help but face the problems of the here and now. Their only thought is to see the next sunrise. While in that state, they have no luxur

      • by petman ( 619526 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @05:20AM (#39506599)
        Why argue about the soil? It's a red herring, if you ask me. You can find crops for any type of soil, even pure sand. The real problem is fresh water.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 29, 2012 @03:04AM (#39505837)

      Glaciers made the north fertile which the south largely lacked. They ground up mountains then dropped the minerals in the flatlands when the glaciers melted. Rock dust is an established way to make ground fertile but they don't line the pockets of oil companies so they are largely ignored. A combination of things like rock dust and kelp would make the ground fertile yet oddly aren't even discussed. The other factor is water which all the oil based fertilizers in the world won't change. One of the benefits to rock dust over oil based fertilizers is it actually restores lost minerals. In our society if it doesn't line the pockets of the rich we loose interest fast. Africa has large amounts of volcanic as well as other forms of rock that can be turned into fertilizer. It also has a massive amount of coastline that could be used to harvest kelp and other ocean based forms of fertilizer. There are a lot of fishermen yet why aren't they encouraged to use bi-catch, worthless fish, as fertilizer? Anything not sold is discarded when it could be fertilizing poor soil. All that is lacking is the will to use things that don't make the rich richer.

      Here are a few articles.

    • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @03:09AM (#39505865) Journal
      Interestingly, (and I know this is somewhat tangential to the point you were making), and surprisingly, rainforests often have quite poor soil [].
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 29, 2012 @03:30AM (#39505977)

      I agree. I grew up in Africa. The problem is the governments, or rather dictators. For example, Zimbabwe (cough), COULD feed the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa. It has superbly rich soil, enough water, good rainfall. Yet the silly West have to prop it up as its 10 million inmates are starving. "aid" money hardly ever reaches its intended audience - 99.99% gets gobbled up by government officials, bribes, etc. It is simple the way of Africa. They think differently, no matter how much BS the Greens and Liberals tell you - people in the 3rd world do NOT think or act like YOU.

      • by mdarksbane ( 587589 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @08:17AM (#39507667)

        Aid money is destroying Africa. There's no need to work on a functioning social or government organizations when you can stay in power perfectly well just off of what's getting shipped to you from the West.

        Most government budgets in Africa treat aid as a core part of their income - some as much as 50%. They don't use it to cover short term shortfalls, they expand spending to use everything. And these are the governments that are actually using the money and not just pocketing it.

        "We" (we being the west) cannot fix Africa short of turning it into east Carolina. They need to come up with their own functional modes of government and funding, whatever those are, on their own. The people have no chance when their local tinpot dictators are being propped up by someone with 100x their power and economy.

      • by Attila Dimedici ( 1036002 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @09:54AM (#39508721)
        This Anonymous Coward makes two very good points. There have been several studies that show that the basis for a society becoming more wealthy from top to bottom is having a government based on rule of law where the laws change slowly and apply mostly the same to everyone from top to bottom. An additional factor to that is that property has clear title and the mechanism for transferring ownership of land from one person to another is relatively easy to execute. Both of these situations are deteriorating in the U.S. and that deterioration is playing a significant role in our current economic problems.

        The second point he makes sounds racist the way he stated it, but it is not necessarily so (I do not know if he meant it in a racist way or not). He is correct that most people in 3rd world countries do not think or act like people in developed nations. This is not biological. It is not a product of their "race". It is cultural. They have learned to think the way they do because that is how things work in the countries they live in. They can learn to think and act differently. Of course, this does not mean that there are no aspects about the way that people in developing nations think that would improve the lives of those in developed nations were to learn to think that way.
        I have worked with an organization that works with the extremely poor in several developing nations. It was amazing to see what a difference was made over time because the leader of the organization dealt with the local governments assuming that once the rules were made, they would not change arbitrarily. The leader knew that such was not traditionally the case, but she was able to establish such a reputation with the locals that they were embarrassed to not live up to her expectations. Of course it also worked because she worked with those at the other end showing them that if they worked within the system, they would make more progress than if they went outside it. It also only worked because she limited the size of the organization to where she could establish a personal relationship with people at various levels.
    • Tropical rain forest is actually not a very good soil, if you try to use it as farmland you'll probably end up with a desert. []

  • Solution (Score:4, Insightful)

    by larppaxyz ( 1333319 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @02:26AM (#39505591)
    Birth control.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      or just stop feeding them. let the population adjust naturally to the food supply. keep on feeding them with no infrastructure = more starving people not less.

    • Absolutely, choose the "unsustainable" quick road to development. Undeveloped countries have high birth rates. Developed countries have low birth rates. Once the people are all comparatively rich they will *demand* birth control. Then their population will stabilize and they can start buying organic lattes, driving hybrid cars, and generally hugging trees like I do.
  • the bigger problem (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 29, 2012 @02:27AM (#39505599)

    How about not growing the population in an area that can't sustain it? Our whole planet is going to have to do this at some point unless there's some sort of breakthrough. Is it really too early to start talking about managing population growth or are we still so blind that we can't distinguish between human rights and long term survival?

    • by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @02:35AM (#39505647)
      Population is the elephant in the room of environmentalism. It's the root of almost all other problems, perhaps the most serious one of all. At the same time, the only ways to fix it would face massive public opposition to the point that the environmental movement as a whole would suffer from the backlash. So the problem is ignored, on the grounds that there are no politically viable solutions. China excepted, but them only because their government doesn't have to care how unpopular it's programs are.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 29, 2012 @03:04AM (#39505839)
        Exponential population growth, contrary to popular belief, is actually a myth. Birth control is actually popular with the people who use it (women). If people can afford it and are educated as to it's existence it works great without any sort of oppressive scheme. See for example, India's rapidly declining birthrate: graph [] as an example of how population is not as bad as you might think. In my personal opinion, the biggest issue for the environment is intellectual property and microregulations that impede alternative energy development.
      • by Confusedent ( 1913038 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @03:05AM (#39505847)
        Disagree, the carrying capacity of Earth increases with new technological breakthroughs. As an example, we're only utilizing less than 30% of the *surface* habit right now (we can grow shit on the oceans, you know). The real issue is capturing enough energy (plus converting it to the desired forms) to feed/house/etc. everyone. Trying to control population is a needless violation of human rights, at least at this point. Well, not entirely needless given the current technology and economic structure, but the point is we have more than enough resources, we just manage them poorly, plus the first world has pretty well demonstrated that comfortable living is more important than taking care of the less fortunate. Oh don't get me wrong, Malthusian growth can't continue indefinitely, but we are so freaking far from that point it isn't even funny.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 29, 2012 @02:54AM (#39505759)

      How about not growing the population in an area that can't sustain it? Our whole planet is going to have to do this at some point unless there's some sort of breakthrough. Is it really too early to start talking about managing population growth or are we still so blind that we can't distinguish between human rights and long term survival?

      Yep. And one problem is the church which is doing much of the aid work in developing counries. Church does not allow birth control. Quite opposite, their bible says people should spread and fill the earth. They don't undestant that it happened allready over a hunderd years a go.

  • I KNOW!! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by HaeMaker ( 221642 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @02:34AM (#39505639) Homepage

    How about we let the Africans decide! What a CONCEPT! Self determination!

  • They have to chose? (Score:4, Informative)

    by DarwinSurvivor ( 1752106 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @02:36AM (#39505655)
    This is a stupid question. Why can't they do all 3? Did Africa recently shrink to the point where they can only try 1 type of farming? This is like asking what type of electrical generation the US should switch to!
  • by Gordonjcp ( 186804 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @02:41AM (#39505683) Homepage

    Of course we all know that all farms should only be used for growing vegetables because raising animals is bad for the environment, right?


    This is exactly why. The only people who think that we should only grow vegetables are people who have only ever seen thousands of acres of rolling Iowa cornfields - much of which gets fed to cows. Most of the world doesn't use "feedlots" the way that the cattle industry in the US does. Most of the world isn't rolling Iowa cornfield, either.

    The only thing that makes sense is to try to grow things that will actually thrive in the prevailing conditions. Trying to turn land that is not really suitable for arable crops into land that *is* suitable for arable crops is doomed to expensive failure. Now, the first problem with Africa is that cutting down forests to provide arable land has allowed what soil there was to wash or blow away, depending on whether it's getting deluged with rain or dried into powder with the sun. The first thing is not to worry too much about importing huge amounts of petrochemical-derived fertiliser, but to get irrigation working and grow green manure crops that will tie what little soil there is together, and provide some nutrients when they break down. The great thing about this is that you don't really care if the water is dirty - in fact, you *want* it to be a bit dirty, any sediment or sewage or dead animals will only make it work better. The more biomass you get in there, the better. Sure, it'll smell a bit horrible, but have you ever been near an organic farm when they're spreading the organic fertiliser out? Hint - you make organic fertiliser using cows, sheep and pigs.

    A good solution would be to devise some way of processing sewage from towns into something that can be used as fertiliser. The difficulty is that allowing sewage to break down involves allowing human shit to break down, and that requires you to let bacteria multiply rapidly, and you tend to get predominantly E Coli bacteria when you do that. This isn't exactly what you want to fling onto your arable crops, and killing E Coli requires lots of chemicals or lots of heat. They've got a lot of sunshine, so maybe you could do something with that - a sort of solar steriliser to bake off the E Coli and give you a nice, dry, easy-to-handle compost.

    Of course you're going to need to find some sort of livestock that thrive in these conditions, and goats do pretty well, but goats eat everything and will destroy ground-covering plants which is how we got into this mess in the first place. Hens would do pretty well, as long as you had a biggish grassy patch with plenty of bugs for them to eat. Cows would be good if you could get enough forage in for them initially, because there's nothing quite so good at turning poor grassland into fertile arable land as getting some sort of ruminant to eat the tough inedible grasses and pass them through that complex set of stomachs.

    We can't afford the arable land for everyone to be vegetarian, and when the oil runs out the situation will get worse. We *all* need to plan now and act soon.

    • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @03:43AM (#39506053)
      In addition to that article, I'd add that there's a strong inverse correlation [] between economic development and population growth. The vast majority of population growth is in developing countries. Industrialized nations have close to zero and in some cases negative population growth. Food, clean water, and medicinal aid to developing countries may be well-intentioned, but it's just exacerbating the problem. Families which would've stopped after x babies continue to have more offspring because of the availability of food and water. Africans who would've died of starvation or disease survive, adding to a population which isn't sustainable with the infrastructure that's present there.

      We're tackling the problem backwards. Instead of treating the symptoms, we need to be treating the problem. First and foremost, we need to be helping African nations build an economic base. Help the countries there establish stable governments conducive to economic growth, develop educational structures to provide a skilled workforce, and provide economic assistance to help them start up their own businesses and trade. Once you get the economic ball rolling, they will build their own fresh water wells and distribution system; they will build their own farms and irrigation canals; they will build their own hospitals and train their own doctors. Doing it the way we're doing - providing food, water, and medicine for free - is just increasing their population while killing what economies they have. We're stunting their economic growth while simultaneously moving the goalpost of economic self-sustainability further away.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 29, 2012 @02:44AM (#39505705)
    Africa is perfectly capable of growing enough food to feed its people. Many nations are capable of growing enough food to export the surplus. The problems are distribution, largely related to corruption and violence. It seems nearly everything we do just makes it worse. The free food shipments have a list of unintended consequences long enough to terrify you. It simultaneously props up the craven warlords that don't like us while depressing the prices for locally grown food so the farmers can't sell any excess they might grow for the tools that they need to buy the tools the need to continue to farm, much less other life expenses like clothes. Tools and clothes wear out, and if you destroy the local economies with our generousity, it does not help these people. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, as the old saying goes. And hell, I'm not the only one saying it. [] Good intentions don't matter. Bad results do.
    • Really? You mean dumping and unlimited supply of free food and lowering prices destroys the ability of the local farmers to make a living?

      I'm shocked, shocked I tell you, that western governments and NGOs have been spending an enormous amount of other people's money "helping" in a way that never actually solves the problem but assures themselves perfect job security.

  • Aquaponics (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Essef ( 12025 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @02:48AM (#39505731)

    I have recently started an aquaponics system at home. I'm African, but an expat living overseas. I am massively impressed with the potential for this particular technology to allow for microfarming on small tracts or even in your backyard.
    Benefits I persieve so far:
          a) High yields over comparable soil-based techniques
          b) Allows for both protein and carbs to be sourced from one system
          c) Staples like corn have been successfully grown on *very* short cycles
          d) Small family-sized setups can be built to supplement a small family's needs or large "community systems" can be built to leverage economies of scale.
          e) Highly efficient water use compared to soil-based methods with only losses due to evaporation.
          f) Once it gets started the system is self-stabilising

    Challenges I see:
        g) Technically not the easiest thing to get started
        h) Cycling the system to establish the nutrient and bacterial load can take up to a month
        i) First fish harvest can take up to 9 months (Tilapia)
        j) A typical flood-and-drain system needs a waterpump running 24/7 as well as potentially an airpump for the fishes. Electricity !?

    I would be very much in favour of aid which goes toward establish self-sustaining community farms. I'm not a fan of aid which breeds dependency.

    • by Aryden ( 1872756 )
      for part j, I am not sure how much energy is needed by the pump, but could a wind mill accomplish the energy needs? I'm talking on a mechanical level not necessarily electricity generating.
      • Re:Aquaponics (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Essef ( 12025 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @03:31AM (#39505979)

        I'm currently running an AC waterpump capable of delivering 3000liters per hour at pump exit, and less than half of that at 1.5 m head height. This pump uses a whopping 40W of electricity.
        I think that a windmill is an excellent idea, however since the wind can be rather fickle, I don't know how one would keep the nutrient-rich water flowing, and the fishtanks aerated.
        An alternative is to have a biodiesel pump. There is a particular waterplant called "duckweed" which makes an excellent fish food, and also just so happens to have enormous potential as a biodiesel. Estimates are of delivering 200L of biodiesel from a modest planting of the stuff.

        It certainly is a sticky problem and one which I've wrestled with for some time now.

  • Let the countries in Africa decide on how to deal with their food issues. Meanwhile, here in the U.S., we should divert this energy into trying to keep our people fed. I'm getting real tired of hearing about all of these "food deficient" children on the tv.
  • 26 million people die each year to malnutrition and lack of clean drinking water. The cost of saving a life of one person each day is .33. So the cost for a year is $100. The cost to solve world hunger for a year is 3 billion. The cost to put into motion long term projects to solve world hunger is 30 billion as posed by the UN. [] The thing we should examine in ourselves is,"Based on the way I live, could I spare some money to help the poor?" It is similar to when Oscar Schindler broke down because he di
    • by khallow ( 566160 )

      The cost to put into motion long term projects to solve world hunger is 30 billion as posed by the UN.

      That's low enough that Africa could do it all themselves.

      Anyone know the popular arguments why governments don't band together and try and solve world hunger?

      It's throwing good money after bad.

  • Solution is to stop subsidising farming everywhere. Africa could supply huge amounts of grown food much cheaper than many other places can, but there is a problem: other places are heavily subsidised and compared to the wealthy nations that do the subsidies, African nations cannot compete.

    Of-course that, and stopping with the meddling of the foreign affairs of countries of the world, maybe no longer supporting the dictators that are convenient to support.

    • Who are they competing with? What do US far subsidies have to do with Africa not having enough food? Africa is not a huge consumer of US farm goods.

      I think the point is more that Africa, as a whole (excluding some countries) is not able to produce the amount of food to sustain their population.

  • by sociocapitalist ( 2471722 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @03:01AM (#39505821)

    It is immaterial how much can be grown so long as there is no widespread use of contraception. The more food grown, the more mouths there will be demanding the food grown.

  • One word. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Cosgrach ( 1737088 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @03:02AM (#39505827)


  • by Leo Sasquatch ( 977162 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @04:01AM (#39506183)
    Take the guns away from the men and give the pills to the women. Accept the fact that it's going to take a couple of generations to stabilise, and there is no quick fix. In many places, the problems seem to be not poor soil, or lack of rain, but the fact that around harvest time, some asswipe rolls up in a jeep with a bunch of his buttboys and helps himself to whatever he fancies.

    Accept the ugly truth that inter-uterine and infant malnutrition can directly and permanently affect brain growth. Unlike many other parts of the body, which seem able to recover, if sufficient food is presented later, the brain doesn't seem to recover. Entire areas have been hit by famine, whether caused by weather conditions or the janjaweed militia, and the damage is clear and permanent, and won't go away overnight no matter how much food you ship in.

    With no appropriate infrastructure, a lot of aid ends up wasted, damaged, or just diverted to whichever local asswipe has the most guns. Aid needs to be specific. I saw a TED talk on the amazing water-purifier bottle - he scooped up some filthy muck, gave it a couple of pumps, and out came pure water. A truckload of those in the right place would probably do some good. I also remember hearing about a village where the thing that made the most difference to their food supply was teaching the local craftsman to make catapults. The local monkeys would help themselves to the crops and they lost around 30% of their crop each year. They gave the local boys catapults, so they could hit the monkeys with stones without getting too close. The problem cleared right up, as the monkeys learned that going anywhere near the fields got them nothing but a sharp stone at high speed.

    The problems are not insurmountable, but they are huge in scope. Getting people to give a shit for extended periods of time might be the largest challenge of all.
    • by retroworks ( 652802 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @09:10AM (#39508197) Homepage Journal
      Give guns to the women, condoms to the men. That's how we tamed the wild west in the USA. It was ugly for awhile, and we still have some gun culture because of it. But as guns became small enough for women to carry and hide, men had to factor in that she might be packing heat, and thought twice. Handgun distribution to mothers in Uganda might do more to stop Kony than anything else. And the pill does nothing for AIDS, cheap condoms are better. (No, I'm not a troll).
  • by Sooner Boomer ( 96864 ) <> on Thursday March 29, 2012 @04:28AM (#39506351) Journal []

    The ability to have tacos delivered at their feet is an idea many people wouldn't hesitate to get behind - especially when the tacos are being delivered by a robot. The Tacocopter - an unmanned drone helicopter that gives customers tacos on demand - would without a doubt be wildly popular were it to exist throughout the world. All you need is the GPS location and hot sauce!.

  • by KaiLoi ( 711695 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @04:39AM (#39506399)
    I must admit that I'm surprised that in nearly 200 comments there have only been a couple of mentions of Permaculture. I would have expected that the highly systematic and evidence based approach to sustainable high yield food cropping would have been right up the slashdot crowds alley.

    They are already turning this kind of environment into productive landscape in even harsher climates than Africa (the very salty depleted areas of low lying jordan for example) Look on youtube for "greening the desert" (over view here : []).

    Permaculture (while it has it's hippy adherents) is moslty based in very well understood horticultural and scientific processes for repairing damaged landscapes in a rapid and sustainable way using pioneer species that not only stabalise the environment but enhance it. (Natural Nitrogen fixing precursor species) alongside cheap human manageable earthworks and seed planting techniques.

    I highly recommend any geek interested in ecological revitalization read up on and get into permaculture.

We gave you an atomic bomb, what do you want, mermaids? -- I. I. Rabi to the Atomic Energy Commission