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African farmers poised to make changes

Among the continents of the world, Africa alone is unable to grow enough to feed itself. Many governments and non-governmental organizations pulled back their support of African development in the 1990s. That is changing now, and farmers are beginning to make strides in increasing their production and marketing of food, according to Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Africa stands poised to “turn the corner once and for all” on building food and nutrition security and helping lift itself out of poverty, Kofi Annan, the former secretary-general of the United Nations, said.

But the continent still faces many challenges in launching its own “Uniquely African Green Revolution” and becoming able to grow enough food to feed itself, Annan said during his keynote address to the World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue in Des Moines, Iowa, Thursday.

Annan, who currently serves as chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa or AGRA, said no one should underestimate the depth of the problems confronting Africa’s millions of small farmers, many of whom barely operate above a subsistence level and are dealing with growing pressures on their land.

“There is a huge amount more to do. Many millions are still going hungry. Populations continue to grow, and climate change is, almost by the day, adding to the pressures on Africa’s land,” Annan said. “But I remain very optimistic about Africa’s chances to turn the corner once and for all.”

Not self-sufficient

Africa currently is the only continent which does not grow enough food to feed itself, said Annan, who grew up in Ghana in Africa who studied and ran track at a small college in Minnesota in the 1960s.

“It alone has failed, in recent decades, to see agricultural productivity keep pace with its growing population. Unfortunately, Africa was bypassed by the science-based agricultural development, built on the ideas of Norman Borlaug, which so dramatically transformed food production in Asia.”

Much of the discussions at the World Food Prize, which was established by Dr. Borlaug to recognize those who are addressing the problem of world hunger, have centered on solving the problems of hunger and malnutrition in Africa.

Annan said the challenges for agriculture in Africa can only be overcome by working in partnership with the continent’s smallholder farmers.

Women in majority

“More than three-quarters of Africa’s population is engaged in agriculture and related activities, and the vast majority of these farmers are women, mostly on small farms of two hectares (a hectare equals 2.47 acres) or less.”

While agriculture contributes one-third of the continent’s GDP and provides most of its food, it receives only minimal government support, Annan noted. African governments in the final decades of the last century pulled back from agriculture at a time when the private sector and market forces were unable or unwilling to fill the void.

“It was to address all these problems – and to understand why the lessons learnt from Asia’s successful agricultural transformation had not touched Africa – that as U.N. Secretary-General, I commissioned a study from the Inter Academy Council,” he said.

'Uniquely African'

The conclusions and recommendations of that study have led to the concept of a “Uniquely African Green Revolution” – modern and sustainable agriculture with an emphasis on improved seeds and integrated soil fertility and water management practices.

The new approaches are beginning to have an impact in countries like Mali, Kenya, Malawi and Tanzania where the increased access to high-yielding seeds, fertilizer and credit are making a difference to farmer’s livelihoods.

“The balance is changing. There was a real sense of optimism last month at the African Green Revolution Forum in Ghana which was attended by more than 1,000 partners,” he said. “They included government leaders and parliamentarians, bankers, civil society organizations, scientists and researchers, and farmers.

“I also saw something I had never seen before in Africa – the attendances of company CEOs at an agricultural event.”

Annan said the world has a stake in Africa’s future. “Without a prosperous, stable and peaceful Africa, our ambitions for our world will not succeed. We need African governments to stand by and support their farmers through resource allocation and the right policy environments. But it is equally important that the developed world upholds its commitments to Africa’s development and continues to see agriculture as a priority for support.” 

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