Remarks by H.E. Mr. Kofi Annan
Launch of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) at the World Economic Forum session "Investing in Growth: A Green Revolution in Africa"
Cape Town, South Africa
Thank you, Klaus, for your warm introduction.
I am delighted to be here in Cape Town amongst so many friends and colleagues.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Three years ago, as Secretary-General of the United Nations, I addressed the Africa's Green Revolution Seminar in Addis Ababa-a gathering of African leaders committed to achieving a goal that has eluded us for too long-lifting tens of millions of our children, parents, brothers and sisters out of poverty and hunger into a world of opportunity and hope.
Today, I have the high honour of accepting the position of Chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. I am humbled, and yet excited.
I do this alongside all of you-our farmers, scientists, entrepreneurs, and elected leaders. And I accept this challenge with gratitude to the Rockefeller Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and all others who support our African campaign.
I do this because, for me, there is nothing more important. We must address poverty at its core. In Africa, this means enabling small-scale farmers to grow and sell Africa's food. Our goal is to dramatically increase the productivity, food security, incomes and livelihoods of small-scale farmers, many of whom are women.
All of us yearn for practical solutions to address the major cause of our continental poverty-an agricultural sector that has languished, but is now poised to be so much more productive and dynamic. We know that the path to prosperity in Africa begins at the fields of African farmers who, unlike farmers almost anywhere else, do not produce enough food to nourish our families, communities, or the populations of our growing African cities.
The facts are well known. Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region in the world where per capita food production has steadily declined. One-third of the continent's population is chronically undernourished. Most of our farmers lack access to productive crop varieties, adequate water resources and soil nutrients. In fact, our soils are the most depleted in the world. Good roads are scarce. Universities, and the research and talent they produce, are poorly staffed and under-funded.
We face many challenges. But, through this Alliance, we have reason for hope. But hope must be more than a dream-it requires the mobilisation of knowledge, capacity and resources to end the human misery that ravages our continent.
Many of our leaders have spoken about what is involved in launching a uniquely African Green Revolution-a revolution that looks to improved agricultural production as the basis of a larger effort to take Africa confidently into a new era of sustainable development; a revolution that improves the lives of farmers and delivers greater opportunity, enterprise and prosperity.
Such a vitalisation of African agriculture involves an ambitious agenda, and the Alliance has such an agenda. Eager for results, the Alliance has begun implementing its first programmes:
* In 2006, we began working with our partners to develop new seeds for small-scale farmers that are more productive and resilient varieties of Africa's major food crops.
* Also in 2006, we launched educational programmes to accelerate the development of African agricultural expertise, and to monitor and evaluate our work.
Over the next four years, we will systematically build on these programmes, adding initiatives to address other key aspects of the agricultural value chain.
* In 2007, we will launch a programme to improve the health of Africa's soils, now the most depleted in the world.
* In 2008, we will launch a water management initiative to help Africa's small-scale farmers get the most "crop for each drop".
* By 2009, we will address the key challenges facing off-farm systems and markets, such as improvements in market information systems, crop storage, processing, and transport.
Along with all of this work, the Alliance will strongly advocate for policies that support small-scale farmers; those that promote rural development, environmental sustainability, and trade favourable to poor farmers in Africa.
Only with advocacy and policy change at national, regional, and global levels will small-scale farmers succeed in dramatically increasing yields, ending poverty and hunger, and lifting the economies of Africa.
Beyond this five-year time frame, the work of the Alliance will continue to be informed by African farmers in the field, women's associations, and partners and leaders from all sectors of agriculture. We expect to see dramatic improvements in the livelihoods of small-holder farmers within 10 to 20 years.
We know that success depends on partnerships, and our approach is inclusive: all who share our goals are invited to this table. We are listening to others and learning about the approaches that are already improving food production in Africa. We launched our programmes only after extensive discussions with farmers in the field, as well as with our partner African institutions and experts who are carrying out this work.
In the coming months, the Alliance will build upon and expand these partnerships. We will meet with farmer's unions, women's associations, networks of agro-dealers and civil society organisations. We will listen carefully to their needs and priorities, and learn from their perspectives and experience.
Many African heads of state have already committed to reaching the African Union's goal of reaching a 6 percent annual increase in farm production by 2015 and cutting food insecurity in half. The Alliance fully endorses these goals, and will do all we can to help countries reach them.
While ambitious, ours is a practical campaign. We are focused on developing locally-driven and adapted solutions that address the full range of reforms required to ensure dramatically increased productivity on Africa's small-scale farms. Our farmers want better seeds, soils, and prices for what they sell. They want access to water, markets, and credit. They need to see national polices put in place that accelerate rural economic growth, investment, and job creation.
And, though we know this is a journey, that doesn't stop us from being in a hurry. We aim to make a concrete difference in our lifetimes. With respect to seeds, the Alliance is already in the fields, working with African farmers and African agricultural scientists to breed new varieties of maize, cassava, rice, beans, sorghum and other major crops that will offer better resistance to disease and pests. Our goal is to produce 100 new crop varieties in five years. And to ensure farmers have access to these seeds, we will also move to create a wider network of local seed distributors and agro-dealers to better serve remote rural areas.
Building on the Africa Fertiliser Summit held in Nigeria last year, we will launch a soil health initiative to improve soil management practices. We absolutely must improve the quality and health of our farm lands. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to enhance Africa's natural resource base and ensure sustainable production.
Water management is a cornerstone of our plans. A crucial challenge ahead will be to improve water use, especially where water is scarce. We will do this by working with farmers who are eager to develop low-cost, small-scale water management and irrigation techniques.
None of this will be possible without market improvements to increase access to credit for small-scale farmers. The ability of these farmers to sell their surplus crops is critical to any gains in African food production. So, we will work with existing and new organisations on this continent to make this uniquely African Green Revolution a lasting force for economic and social progress.
The Alliance is answering the call of many African leaders to build on the achievements and lessons learned from the Green Revolution in Asia and Latin America that began more than a generation ago. That campaign-initiated by the Rockefeller Foundation-saved hundreds of millions of lives and more than doubled cereal production. There is much to be learned from these tremendous successes, as well as from their shortcomings.
That said, ours is a Revolution of the 21st century, one that we Africans will own, whose destiny we will shape, and which responds to the specific environmental challenges facing our continent. We will offer a wide range of innovative solutions. African nations and farmers will choose those that are best suited for our African cultures, climates, and economies.
We will move forward by empowering farmers and engaging rural communities to improve agriculture production in ways that reduce social and economic inequity. Our success in this regard will necessarily be linked with policies that support Africa's women farmers. Women do the lion's share of Africa's farming. It is they who grow, process, and prepare the continent's food. It is they who gather water and wood. Yet, women lack adequate access to credit, technology, training, and agricultural services.
We will be vigilant in protecting the environment that gives us our water, air, and land. We will conserve and make use of the natural biodiversity of Africa's crops and learn from the knowledge of our farmers.
The world remains captive to the old idea that we face a choice between economic growth and conservation. This is a false choice. Our fight against poverty is directly linked to the health of the earth itself. Let me be especially clear on this point: we will revitalise agriculture for Africa's small-scale farmers while protecting and enhancing the quality of our environment.
No doubt, ours is an ambitious agenda. And some would say that, in Africa, we are awash in ambitious agendas yet nothing changes. But I am convinced that the effort I am embracing today is moving us beyond a general commitment to help Africa's poor, towards specific solutions backed by the resources, talent and partnerships needed to produce tangible results.
You will be able to measure our progress by weighing the harvests as they come in from the field, by testing the soils on the farms, and by looking at the improvement in the livelihoods of farmers across Africa.
I have spent decades listening to people talk about Africa's problems, making promises to help. It's an experience that has left me thirsty for concrete action. The Alliance is about taking action now, today, in a clear and meaningful way.
The final point I wish to make is this: no country or region of significant size has been able to lift itself out of poverty without raising productivity in its agricultural sector. This is our challenge. It is a long-term effort, but one that-with our partners-is within reach.
We in Africa know that, in the words of the Nigerian Chinua Achebe, it is always "morning yet on creation day." We now have an opportunity to create a new day, and with it, a new morning, for Africa.
I close today with the plea that I offered in Addis Ababa three years ago-let us all do our part to help Africa's small-scale farmers end chronic poverty. Let us generate a uniquely African Green Revolution-a revolution that will help the continent in its quest for prosperity and peace.