By 2050, the world population is expected to surpass nine billion, an increase of over two billion from where we stand today. While the populations of developed nations like the United States are expected to remain largely stagnant, developing countries will see their populations rise significantly. As the number of people on this planet increases, so too will the demand for food, and while the U.S. population isn’t expected to substantially multiply, an increase in world population will affect how and where we get our own nourishment. So where are we going to get this extra food?
The easy solution would be simply to increase crop yields across the United States, in the the corn farms and on the wheat fields of the Midwest, for example. The problem, though, is that crop yields in the United States are already nearing their maximum potential. As Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne, a global health correspondent for Globalpost, an online news service, points out [in a recent article in The Atlantic, moreover, the developing world is running out of new places to plant](https://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200909/map-food). If the world is going to be fed in 2050, we better find a new place to plant.
Enter Africa. While most parts of the world benefited from improved farming techniques in the latter part of the 20th century, sub-Saharan Africa largely missed out. As a result, the region that today is most identified with extreme and cyclical poverty could stand to develop significantly by using tools that are already readily available in many parts of the world. Kenneth Cassman is quoted in Shelburne’s piece as saying, “We could increase yields in sub-Saharan Africa threefold tomorrow with off-the-shelf technology.”
Besides making good seed and better fertilizer available to farmers in the region, a number of organizations are already hard at work trying to convert the sub-Saharan regions into the new Fertile Crescent. [The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation](https://www.gatesfoundation.org/Pages/home.aspx), for example, is funding efforts at [the International Center for Tropical Agriculture](https://www.ciat.cgiar.org/) to digitally map the soil in sub-Saharan Africa. This will allow the center to make crucial statistics – how well the land retains water or absorbs nutrients, for example – available to farmers across the region, thereby improving crop yields and efficiency.
[The Millennium Villages Project](https://www.millenniumvillages.org/) is working to end poverty in the area by developing community-led initiatives at the village level. These initiatives specifically deal with increasing crop yields, food production and education because bringing the selected communities out of poverty starts with increasing and improving their own resources. Thus, as organizations like the Gates Foundation and Millennium Villages Project seek to bring an end to poverty in sub-Saharan Africa through improved farming techniques and new technologies, they are also helping to establish Africa as the future home of food production for the entire planet.
If what these organizations are doing is so important, it would be reasonable to expect the U.S. government to have already taken the lead. Examining [the U.S. Agency for International Development’s stated goals in sub-Saharan Africa](https://www.usaid.gov/locations/sub-saharan_africa/), however, shows that our government is still focusing its resources on trying to “consolidate democratic transitions” and “bolster fragile states,” ambitions more suitable for a 20th-century aid program than a 21st-century one. While USAID does briefly mention some of the programs it has in place to increase agricultural production in the region in its stated goals, the agency’s decision not to make it a focus of aid efforts shows that it doesn’t really understand the big picture. Increasing food production in Africa is as important to Africans today as it is to future generations of Americans.
As students, we often study regions of the world through particular lenses. The emerging markets of Southeast Asia, for example, or the changing power dynamics of Western Europe. Similarly, we have been brought up studying aid in Africa, or the politics of third-world countries, many of them located on the continent of Africa. We study Africa as a place in perpetual turmoil, always in need of assistance.
Instead, it’s time to study Africa not for what it currently lacks, but for what it can provide in the future. Many parts of Africa are struggling today (there is no denying this), but it’s time to start focusing on how Africa’s development is beneficial for humankind on the whole, not just for Africans. The mother continent will likely be the one shaping and feeding our future – if only the U.S. government could come to the same conclusion.
John Thornburgh is a senior in the College. He can be reached at thornburghthehoya.com. Worldwise appears every other Friday.
*To send a letter to the editor on a recent campus issue or Hoya story or a viewpoint on any topic, contact [opinionthehoya.com](opinionthehoya.com). Letters should not exceed 300 words, and viewpoints should be between 600 to 800 words.*”