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A partnership between two key donor agencies aims to spark an African 'green revolution' by addressing farm productivity and training the next generation of agricultural scientists.

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa will address the key issues of soil fertility, irrigation, farm management practices and financing as well as access to markets and new seeds.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation will initially invest US$150 million in a programme to improve seed varieties in areas with harsh environmental conditions, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Program for Africa's Seed Systems (PASS), based in Nairobi, Kenya, will invest in national programmes that use local crop breeding techniques to develop seeds that are more resistant to pests, diseases, local rainfall patterns and soil properties.

PASS will also invest in graduate-level education in Africa to train the next generation of crop breeders and agricultural scientists, and in improving rural transport infrastructure to help farmers get hold of better seeds.

Masa Iwanaga, director general of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), stressed the importance of infrastructure, saying it will take more than investing in agriculture to spark an African 'green revolution'.

"Sub-Saharan Africa does not have the physical infrastructure or institutional capacity that made the green revolution possible elsewhere," he told SciDev.Net.

"Yes, agriculture can lead economic growth in those countries, but attention must be paid to natural resource management, improved infrastructure, favourable policies, and access to markets and off-farm income," says Iwanaga.

In a press release, Bill Gates — co-chair of the Gates Foundation — envisioned African entrepreneurs starting seed companies to supply small farmers. The foundation also wants agro-dealers to reach more small farmers with improved farm inputs and farm management practices.

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