Kofi Annan championed many global causes, but few issues were as important to him as eradicating hunger, malnutrition, and extreme poverty in Africa. He always felt a special responsibility to Africa and cared deeply about the fate and fortunes of its people.
His vision for Africa was one of a prosperous continent that can feed and sustain itself, and even potentially contribute to the global food supply. For him, improving food and nutrition security was not just a goal in itself, but essential to building peaceful, fair, and prosperous societies. As he once put it: “a hungry man is not a free man”. Led by this conviction, my husband called in 2006 for a “uniquely African green revolution”. This call contributed to the creation of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), which he then chaired with great dedication and enthusiasm.
Threats to Progress
Despite some progress in transforming African agriculture, Kofi Annan’s vision of a prosperous and food-secure continent has yet to be fulfilled. Growth in agricultural productivity has not kept pace with population growth. After years of steady decline, hunger is on the rise in some sub-regions of the continent. Conflicts, uncertain global markets, and above all, climate change, are threatening the progress made towards ending hunger.
“The eradication of hunger is not just an end in itself: It is a first step toward sustainable development and progress in general, for a hungry man is not a free man. He cannot focus on anything else but securing his next meal.”
– Kofi Annan
Just as the challenges are urgent and comprehensive, so must be our responses. We need to make agriculture attractive for the new generation of Africans and harness their energy and entrepreneurial spirit. Progress will be greatest, my husband would say, if we build strong partnerships and put smallholder farmers, particularly women farmers, at the centre of our efforts. “Smallholders are the ones who put food on our tables”, he used to say. “They are the ones who care for our land and water resources. In the end, they will be the ones to propel the economic growth and development of Africa in the 21st century.”
Transformation is Underway, but Much is Still Needed
Africa’s agricultural transformation is underway, but much needs still to be done. The Kofi Annan Foundation, dedicated to catalysing political will and building partnerships to promote change, remains determined to play its part.
Through its Combatting Hunger programme, the Foundation – in partnership with the African Development Bank – is studying how intra-African food trade can improve food security, economic growth and shared prosperity. The creation of the African Continental Free Trade Area is a major step forward. If properly implemented, this agreement has the potential to significantly boost the volume and value of intra-African agricultural and food trade and services.
Nutritional Security is Paramount
The Foundation and I personally as a member of its board will also remain engaged in the promotion of the conventionally bred orange-fleshed sweet potato. In Ghana, we have seen first-hand the potential that sweet potato – a fast-growing and climate-smart crop rich in vitamins and micronutrients – has for improving diets, fighting malnutrition, increasing the incomes of smallholders farmers. Nutritional security is paramount for every child to reach his or her full potential, and thus it is for every nation.
Sadly many of those who suffer from food insecurity do so because they live in countries or communities where conflict and violence are preventing the successful development of agriculture. People will not plant and harvest if they fear that their crops will be seized or burnt by armed men. So conflict prevention is critical for the transformation of African agriculture, a goal that the Kofi Annan Foundation is pursuing through its work on promoting peaceful political transitions.
It is now just over one year since my husband left us. While this year’s African Green Revolution Forum – a forum he was instrumental in establishing – is coming to an end, I hope we can continue joining forces to build on my husband’s legacy to ensure that his vision of a food-secure and prosperous Africa becomes a reality.
Nane Annan is a board member of the Kofi Annan Foundation.