As the FAO notes in its June Food Outlook, biofuel production from grains and vegetable oils is driving up food prices globally; food imports in the least developed countries of the world, including those in sub-Saharan Africa, cost 90 percent more in 2007 than in 2000. There is a silver lining, according to Sanchez. "It's a fantastic opportunity to increase production when things are at a higher price."
"This biofuels question is really going to bedevil us," adds Jeffrey Sachs, director of The Earth Institute." [Such] vast acreage is going to come out of the forest margins against a backdrop of quite massive deforestation. And about 23 percent of carbon emissions are directly from deforestation."
It remains to be seen if improved agricultural techniques, wider use of fertilizer and government subisidies help promote development and curb hunger in sub-Saharan Africa—a true "green revolution" like the one that took place in Asia in the 1960s and 1970s. "If food levels are going up, they are not going up in sufficient numbers," says Zachary Muburi-Muita, U.N. ambassador from Kenya. "The condition on the continent that leads to ecological stress is really low incomes."
But improving farming may yet prove the key to solving that dilemma, as it remains the key form of economic activity in sub-Saharan Africa, the World Bank report notes. And Sanchez is in full agreement: "Agriculture is the engine of growth." After all, Malawi has done it, with a little help from mother nature. "Any farmer can get the inputs at a 75 percent discount," he says. "That does it, coupled with a couple years with no horrible droughts."