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Looking to Africa for Ideas About How to Fight Hunger

Urban farmers growing vegetables in a slum of Nairobi, Kenya.

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This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Sub-Saharan Africa has the world's highest hunger rate. The United Nations says thirty percent of the people were undernourished last year. But a new report says African farmers also have ideas that could help the world fight hunger and poverty.

Danielle Nierenberg from the Worldwatch Institute in Washington spent a year visiting twenty-five countries south of the Sahara. In Nairobi, Kenya, for example, Ms. Nierenberg found women farmers growing vegetables just outside their doorsteps in the Kibera settlement.

DANIELLE NIERENBERG: "It's a slum. It's depressing. It's crowded. It's dirty. It's noisy. But these people are finding ways to make their lives better."

The women use old sacks filled with soil. They cut holes in the sides of the tall bags so air gets to the seeds. The women feed their families and sell their surplus. They use the money to send their children to school.

Last year, an estimated nine hundred twenty-five million people worldwide did not get enough to eat. Half of all people in the world now live in and around cities. Researchers like Ms. Nierenberg are looking increasingly at creative ideas to feed those who are malnourished.

DANIELLE NIERENBERG: "I think there are a lot of lessons that we in the Western world can learn from Africa. And what they are doing is certainly applicable to other developing countries."

Farmers in the developing world lose between twenty and forty percent of their harvest before it ever reaches market. Asma Lateef from the group Bread for the World says there are many reasons why food gets wasted.

Farmers are without electricity and cold storage. They lack good seeds and fertilizer. They lack good roads. Ms. Lateef says conditions like these keep small farmers in poverty.

Danielle Nierenberg says more attention needs to be paid to protecting harvests.

DANIELLE NIERENBERG: "Given all that we invest in producing food in the first place, we need to devote the same amount of attention to making sure that it is not wasted."

In Nigeria, village processing centers are helping farmers reduce their losses and earn more money. The centers process cassava, a root vegetable, into basic food products.

In Uganda, the Worldwatch report says some schools are teaching children how to grow local varieties of crops. And in South Africa and Kenya the report praises the breeding of local kinds of livestock. These animals may produce less milk or meat than other breeds, but they can survive heat and drought conditions.

The report is called "State of the World 2011: Innovations That Nourish the Planet."

And that’s the VOA Special English Agriculture Report, written by Jerilyn Watson with Steve Baragona. To see pictures of the Kibera women growing vegetables, go to I'm Bob Doughty.