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Poverty and food insecurity weigh heavily on the 5.4 million residents in two drought-prone regions of Ethiopia: South Wollo and East Harerge. In the latter region, 45% of the children are underweight, and 54% have no certainty of receiving adequate nutrition. But well-crafted agricultural improvement projects, carried out with help from the University of Nebraska, are offering much-needed hope.

After 38 shallow, pilot-project irrigation wells proved successful, follow-up work created 100 additional small-scale irrigation systems. The result: Crop production on the participating farms doubled. Farmers saw their average annual income increase more than double, to $4,200.

This work in Ethiopia is just one of the projects that NU’s Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute is conducting in 16 African nations. Such work can have tremendous value in coming years as Africa’s demand for food increases dramatically. Africa is projected to account for half of the world’s population increase through 2050.

If Africa can achieve significant improvements in agricultural productivity, the continent will see multiple benefits, a study by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs says: increased ability to meet the food need; stronger overall economic development; and a reduction in poverty. Investments in agricultural development, the study says, “have been proven to be more than twice as effective at reducing poverty as investments in other sectors.” Former Nebraska U.S. Rep. Doug Bereuter co-chaired the task force that developed the study.

The global ag conglomerate Cargill points to specific needs in African agriculture, saying that farmers there “at all scales of production need access to the inputs required to produce a successful crop — high-yielding seeds, effective fertilizer and sufficient water.” About one in four people in sub-Saharan Africa are chronically undernourished, the World Bank says.

The Water for Food institute’s work in Africa directly addresses such needs, including environmental sustainability in agriculture. The institute’s projects include improved fertilizer use in 16 countries, and animal feed changes and crop substitution methods in four countries. The institute has an interactive map online showing its projects in Africa and elsewhere around the globe: https://waterforfood.nebraska.edu/our-work.

NU contributes to Africa’s agricultural improvements in additional ways. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s National Drought Center has done drought and flooding analysis focusing on the Horn of Africa. NU outreach in Tanzania has promoted livestock health and increased literacy for rural women. The African country of Rwanda currently has 160 students attending UNL — the third-largest subgroup of UNL’s international students. Most of the students are enrolled in UNL’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. The students say they intend to return home and use the skills they learn to better their communities and their country.

As the world’s population continues its upward climb, NU’s work to improve African agriculture will take on even greater importance. The progress so far is encouraging. It speaks well to NU’s vision and global outreach.

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