Different Shades of Green in Africa

Time has also published my story about an agricultural war of ideology taking in place in Africa. It’s a fight that could turn out to be good for the continent, but that’s not something that’s guaranteed.

Joseph Odiambo walks decisively past eight plots of corn and comes to a stop in front of the ninth. Where the other plants towered sugar-cane thick with broad crisp blades, here the plants are skinny and stunted, draped with yellow-tinged leaves. The contrast is deliberate, an advertisement for the wares Odiambo sells from his roadside supply shop in western Kenya. While the shopkeeper’s robust plots were planted with commercial seed and carefully nurtured with inorganic fertilizer, his sickly specimens are the result of seeds sown in the bare ground. “We wanted to have a control plot, to show the difference,” he says.

Odiambo’s demonstration plots are an opening salvo in a battle between two very different agricultural philosophies. The goal itself is not in dispute: a healthier, wealthier Africa, one that can feed itself and perhaps even export. Both sides also agree that the solution should be green. The disagreement lies over just what that word means.

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