Madonna and Africa’s Children

Madonna usually only makes headlines in the world’s tabloids. But her adoption of a boy from Malawi whose mother had died and whose farmer father could not feed him has filled opinion pages in serious papers everywhere. Her decision has raised the profile of Malawi, home to recurrent food shortages and seasonal famines.

A crucial experiment is now underway in Malawi and other places that may help to expand farm output so that other poor farmers need not surrender their children for adoption. In the past few years, there has been a sea change in attitudes among African governments towards the importance of farming. Once pushing industrialization at the expense of agriculture, African leaders routinely ignored ordinary farmers. Now they are showing a new respect for tillers of the land, realizing that the fastest way out of extreme poverty for ordinary people is to increase both farm output and crop prices.

Yet getting farmers to grow the right crops, and more of them, is easier said than done. Farmers lack the money for crucial inputs such as fertilizer. They also lack critical skills. Sadly, African governments have failed miserably in teaching farmers improved methods.

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