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Africa’s Potential Role in Global Food Security, Governing Council IFAD,

I want to set out a vision that is optimistic but achievable…


Speech | Strictly embargoed for 09:30 AM CET, Saturday 19 February 2011

Address by H.E. Mr Kofi Annan, Chair of AGRA

Governing Council IFAD,

Africa’s Potential Role in Global Food Security

Rome, February 19, 2011

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. It is a privilege to share some thoughts today with an audience so dedicated and key to eliminating hunger from our world.

It is an audience, that is, global in its make-up and drawn from many different fields.

But we are united in the belief that efforts to end poverty and provide food and nutrition security need to be accelerated urgently.

This is even more important today than when this conference was first planned. Prices for food and other basic commodities have risen sharply.

They have now passed the peak in 2008 which sparked the last food crisis and caused such misery for the most vulnerable in the world.

The FAO has warned that the high cost of food is re-emerging as a serious threat to economic development and social stability.

It has already helped fuel the unrest in the Middle East and North Africa.

And with climate change certain to increase the extreme weather events behind recent price rises, high costs and local shortages are unlikely to be temporary.

Moreover, food and nutrition security will be an increasing challenge across the globe as the world’s population continues to grow.

There is, however, one continent where it is particularly pressing.

And that is Africa – the only continent which does not grow enough food to feed itself.

The result is that nearly 240 million people in sub-Saharan Africa do not eat well enough for their health and well-being.

But against this somber background, I want to set out a vision that is optimistic but achievable: where Africa can feed not only its own citizens but helps meet the needs of the hungry across the world.

It is a vision which requires us to transform agriculture on the continent by building on the progress already underway.

In doing so, we will also transform the prospects for Africa.

For agriculture remains the mainstay of African economies and its way of life.

Even today, four out of five Africans depend on farming and related activities to provide for their families.

Overcoming the continent’s agricultural challenges will provide the platform for Africa to meet its wider ambitions of prosperity and peace.

It is why the neglect of Africa’s agriculture in recent decades has been so damaging and its impact so serious.

African farmers have been excluded from the scientific and technological advances which have revolutionized crop yields across the world.

Poor management of land and water resources, along with weak economic and infrastructure links, have undermined agricultural development.

Outside support for agriculture had collapsed with the proportion of overseas aid falling from 18 per cent in the late seventies to just 3 per cent in recent years.

African farmers have also found themselves severely disadvantaged by an unbalanced global trade regime.

The continent faces unfair barriers both in export markets and in the development of food industries at home, while it remains a dumping ground for cheap food imports.

All this within the continent which the experts warn will be worst affected by the impact of climate change, depleting biodiversity, increasing water stress and desertification.

It was to tackle these challenges that I called, as UN Secretary General, for an African Green Revolution to help meet the first Millennium Development Goal of halving world hunger.

It is, as you well know, a revolution already seen in Asia and Latin America with dramatic results.

Not only was widespread famine averted but it also provided the foundation for higher levels of development and economic progress.

We now need to see a sustainable and uniquely African green revolution which mirrors these achievements while avoiding negative environmental impacts.

It was why I agreed, on leaving the UN, to chair the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa –AGRA – to help deliver this transformation on the continent.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a long way to go to deliver on these ambitions.

But the progress being made across Africa in the last few years should give us real hope for the future.

Creative thinking, effective partnerships, leadership from governments and the efforts of small-holder farmers are helping drive the development of Africa’s agriculture.

Through investment, for example, to provide higher-yielding seeds and fertilizers, AGRA, IFAD and many public and private partners are responding both to farmers’ needs and local conditions.

Best practice on improving soil fertility and other innovative approaches are also being shared and spread and are making a real difference.

But we have also recognized that the efforts of farmers, while vital, can not be seen in isolation. There must be improved support right across the agricultural value chain.

So IFAD, AGRA and many other organizations are working to create national rural networks of retailers and agro-businesses.

Over 10,000 small scale agro –dealers have been strengthened through business management and technical training supported by AGRA.

This has cut, for example, the average distance farmers in western Kenya need to travel to buy seeds and fertilizers by two-thirds, saving valuable time and money.

Lack of accessible credit and other financial services – including crop insurance – have also been a huge brake on agricultural development.

But all that is beginning to change thanks to innovative efforts to work with banks to share risk and boost lending for agriculture.

Partnering with the financial sector including IFAD, AGRA, for instance, has helped leverage $160 million in affordable loans to agriculture from commercial banks in Kenya, Uganda, Mozambique, Ghana and Tanzania.

I am delighted that IFAD’s Governing Council recently approved $20 million to be used by the Government of Tanzania and AGRA to develop a risk sharing facility which will see additional $200 million made available by banks to agriculture.

And Nigeria is leading the way through its commitment of $500 million to develop a risk sharing facility that could leverage $3 billion in new lending to the sector.

In fact, while increased ODA is essential to accelerate the improvements now underway, there are also huge opportunities for local commercial banks and other financial markets.

But if we are to see the rapid transformation needed, we also have to concentrate efforts and resources on those areas with the greatest potential to help meet the continent’s food needs.

This is the thinking behind AGRA’s breadbaskets initiative which focuses on increasing yields and expanding cultivated land in fertile areas already endowed with a minimum of essential infrastructure.

We are bringing governments, development partners, farmer organizations and the private sector together in an integrated and comprehensive way to provide the financial and technical support needed.

This approach is already moving forward in Ghana, Mali, Mozambique and Tanzania, and it is being supported by the “infrastructure cooridor” initiative being launched by YARA and other partners Starting with Tanzania.

Targeting a critical mass of resources and efforts in these regions – and others which could grow a large share of the continent’s staple food requirements, will help deliver food and nutrition security within Africa.

It will also, in the longer-term, enable Africa to create a surplus for global export.

So ladies and gentleman, the right foundations are being put in place thanks to the efforts of many people including in this audience.

Progress is being made, dramatic progress in some places.

In West Africa, over 300,000 farmers have adopted micro-dosing techniques to achieve higher yields from improved varieties of sorghum, maize and rice with only one-third of the recommended fertilizer – improving output while addressing environmental concerns.

In Tanzania, with the support of agro-dealers, small holder farmers in the Southern Highlands produced 5 million tons of maize in 2009, more than any other region in the country.

The World Bank was so encouraged by the results that it is now providing $160 million to expand the initiative.

But we still remain a long way from our hoped-for destination.

So what are the broader lessons we can learn from the progress so far?

And what are the obstacles which still need to be overcome to transform Africa’s ability to meet and exceed its own food needs?

First, and this might seem obvious, priority must be given to growing more food not cash crops.

The market within Africa for staple food crops is estimated at $150 billion a year.

This far exceeds the revenue Africa receives for internationally traded cash crops like coffee, cocoa, tea, and cut-flowers. Food – primarily for domestic consumption – must be our focus.

Second, the progress achieved underlines the importance of a coherent approach to investment right across the agricultural value chain.

Successful agricultural transformation, as we have seen in India, Tunisia and Morocco, depends on all parts of the agricultural system working together.

This requires the forging of strong private-public partnerships which are already, in Ghana, Mozambique and Mali (to name just a few countries) delivering high impact results and creating opportunities for small-holder farmers.

This brings me to my third point. Small-holder farmers are the mainstay of African agriculture. They have to be right at the heart of Africa’s green revolution.

We need to ensure they are well organized and given the knowledge and support to play their full part in the transformation of food production through access to seeds, fertilizers and other resources.

Many small-holder farmers are women. We need policies which encourage them and remove the specific barriers they face – for example access to land and credit

We must also, as is happening with the breadbasket strategy, strengthen linkages between the smallholder and the larger, market-oriented farming operations.

This is not a matter of big farms versus small. Responsible, large scale farming systems can play an important role in directly supporting small farmers through technical advice, transfer of new technologies and support and access to markets – as long as smallholders are not undermined by large scale land acquisitions.

But farmers will only be encouraged to grow more food if they can sell their surplus at prices that benefit both the consumer and the farmer.

This requires action at both national and international level.

National Governments must adopt health and environmental standards to increase the value of their produce and ensure they can be sold in any market.

At the same time, the international community must finally provide effective, efficient and equitable market access policies so that African countries can compete on a level playing field.

This includes guarding against protectionist tendencies, which can be the knee-jerk reaction to rising prices.

We need structural reforms to protect the poorest of the poor from global shocks which all too often hit them the hardest.

Priority must be given to stabilizing international supply and to moderating food commodity speculation so that farmers get fair prices for their produce.

We also need – as this meeting recognizes – to look at the impact on the younger generation.

It is the young, of course, who are hit hardest when food is scarce.

It is to the younger generation as well that we must look to ensure such scarcity belongs to history.

They deserve support to take advantage of the opportunities opening up, both on the land and in the wider agriculture- sector-related activities. They need support for job creation, enterprise development, and to acquire relevant and appropriate skills.

Take, for example, Lovemore Chopi, a young man from Malawi, whose story shows how we can tap into the energy and entrepreneurial spirit of Africa’s younger generation.

Lovemore sold vegetable seeds on the sidewalks of Blantyre but decided he could aim higher.

So he enrolled in an AGRA-supported training course on business and marketing for agro-dealers.

With Malawi’s landmark farmer-support program increasing demand for improved seeds, he registered his rural agro-dealer shop as a government distributor.

The knowledge and confidence he gained has transformed the young Malawian into a small-scale but successful entrepreneur, playing his part in his country’s agricultural revolution.

There are thousands of stories like this across Africa – and millions more if we get the support right.

It is this new generation of Africans – male and female – who can see the possibilities. They need our help so they can make the most of these opportunities.

The march towards achieving an African Green Revolution is about scaling up thousands of small successes occurring across the continent to create sustained transformation.

It is also about making farming attractive to young people with ambition and drive. They are the generation we need to make change sustainable.

Their imagination and energy is also, ladies and gentlemen, the reason why I am confident about my continent’s future.

Africa has the land and the people. We have the potential to feed not just our own citizens but to help create a secure global food system.

A quiet revolution, led by Africa’s small-holder farmers, is already underway.

We all need to work together to make sure these green shoots flourish by sharing knowledge, building partnerships, creating the right policy environment at national level and delivering the increased international investment needed in agriculture.

We have to reform trade rules, too, which will allow crops to be sold at a fair price for farmers and consumers.

By putting these measures in place, we enable Africa’s farmers to rise to the challenge of tackling hunger and food insecurity within their continent and across the world.

This is the enormous prize within our grasp. A successful green revolution which has equity and sustainability at its heart.

It is a revolution which you are helping lead and deliver.

Thank you.


Africa’s Potential Role in Global Food Security