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How Locavores Could Cure World Hunger

South African cusisine

Monsanto has it wrong. The future of a thriving world agriculture system doesn't lie in the hands of gigantic farms; it's in small-scale, local farming initiatives. So says the Worldwatch Institute in its 2011 State of the World report, which claims that the best poverty and hunger-reducing strategies in African nations come from local farming initiatives.

The report draws on a number of individual examples to reach the conclusion that local, organic initiatives are simply more effective. "The international community has been neglecting entire segments of the food system in its efforts to reduce hunger and poverty," said Danielle Nierenberg, co-director of Worldwatch's Nourishing the Planet project, in a statement. "The solutions won't necessarily come from producing more food, but from changing what children eat in schools, how foods are processed and marketed, and what sorts of food businesses we are investing in."

In one initiative cited by the report, a lack of food has triggered 1,000 female farmers in the urban Kibera slum of Kenya to grow vertical gardens in hole-littered sacks full of dirt. In addition to feeding produce to thousands of people, the vertical gardens also provide a source of income to the farmers. With over 60 percent of Africa's population set to live in urban areas by 2050, these kinds of projects will become increasingly important.

The Worldwatch Institute also describes Uganda's Developing Innovations in School Cultivation (DISC) program, which educates local school children using indigenous vegetable gardens, food preparation, and nutrition information, giving them the tools to cook local cuisine and make sure that their families are fed.

It's not that the Worldwatch Institute knows that small-scale, local farming will work—the WRI knows that it has to work. Big agriculture has had its moment to shine, and 925 million people on the planet are still undernourished. It's time for a new plan.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.