Annan to Head Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa


Source: Environment News Service (ENS)

Cape Town, South Africa (ENS) - The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa today announced the appointment of former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan as its first chairman.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum on Africa meeting in Cape Town, where he is delivering a keynote address on African agriculture, Annan said he hopes to use his new positon to help farmers across the continent.

'I am honored today to take up this important post and join with my fellow Africans in a new effort to comprehensively tackle the challenges holding back hundreds millions of small-scale farmers in Africa,' Annan said.

Headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, with a new office planned in Annan's home country, Ghana, the Alliance will be working throughout the continent to strengthen local and regional agricultural markets, help improve irrigation, soil health, and upgrade training for farmers. It will support the development of new seed systems better equipped to cope with the harsh African climate.

The Alliance is already working with African crop scientists and small-scale farmers to use conventional breeding techniques to develop more productive and resilient varieties of Africa's major food crops, as well as the means to distribute them.

It will soon launch an initiative to improve the health of Africa's soils, which are the most depleted in the world.

Annan said, 'Africa is the only region where overall food security and livelihoods are deteriorating. We will reverse this trend by working to create an environmentally sustainable, uniquely African Green Revolution. When our poorest farmers finally prosper, all of Africa will benefit.'

The Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa, AGRA, was established last year with an initial US$150 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation.

'Kofi Annan brings not only a great breadth of experience and insight into the challenges facing African agriculture, but also the will and skill to help lead a wide range of partners to address those challenges,' said Bill Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation.

Annan's new job comes six months after his departure from the United Nations, where he served to two five-year terms as secretary-general. While at the UN, Annan often drew attention to the link between Africa's failing agriculture systems and its persistent hunger and poverty.

Keenly aware that most of Africa's poor, particularly its poor women, depend on farming for food and income, in 2004 Annan called for a 'new uniquely African Green Revolution - a revolution that is long overdue, a revolution that will help the continent in its quest for dignity and peace.'

'We welcome Kofi Annan as chairman of the board,' said Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, which funded, in part, the original Green Revolution in the 1950s and 1960s.

'Kofi Annan keenly understands that meeting the biggest challenges facing our world today requires broad and inclusive coalitions. His leadership in coalition building is widely admired,' said Rodin.

Annan plans to travel throughout Africa meeting with African farmers, entrepreneurs, scientists and political leaders to discuss and promote the work of the Alliance - to boost farm productivity and incomes while at the same time safeguarding the environment and advancing equity.

'Kofi Annan's vision and leadership will be a tremendous asset for the Alliance as it seeks to advance its vision of helping farmers and their families across Africa live healthier, more productive lives,' said Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation.

The Alliance is a response to recent calls by African leaders to chart a new path for prosperity by spurring the continent's agricultural development and also seeks to help reverse decades of relative neglect in funding for agricultural development for Africa.

It endorses the vision laid out in the African Union's Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme, which seeks a six percent annual growth in food production by 2015.

In the past 15 years the number of Africans living below the poverty line of US$1 per day has increased by 50 percent and per capita food production has declined. In the past five years alone, the number of underweight children in Africa has risen by about 12 percent.

A root cause of this entrenched and deepening poverty is the fact that millions of small-scale farmers, the majority of them women working farms smaller than one hectare, cannot grow enough food to sustain their families, their communities, or their countries.

Dr. Monty Jones, head of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa, and a board member of the Alliance, welcomed the Annan's appointment.

'With Kofi Annan as our new chairman, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa will be much better placed to build broader political and economic support behind our vision of pro-poor, pro-environment partnerships needed to revitalize agriculture for Africa's small-scale farmers, and replace widespread poverty with prosperity,' he said.

Dr. Akin Adesina, AGRA vice president of policy and partnership, said the Alliance is inspired by the successes of the original Green Revolution that boosted agricultural productivity in Asia and Latin America. But the Alliance also seeks to learn from some of the weaknesses of that earlier revolution.

Green Revolution agriculture increased the use of pesticides. Organochlorides, a chemical group of pesticides including DDT and dieldrin that spread with the Green Revolution, accumulated through the food chain and spread throughout ecosystems.

Farm workers were poisoned by the new pesticides, water was contamined, and pests developed resistance to them.

Irrigation projects have led to salinization and waterlogging of soils and lowering of water tables in some areas.

The term Green Revolution was first used in 1968 by former USAID director William Gaud, who noted the spread of the new technologies and said, 'These and other developments in the field of agriculture contain the makings of a new revolution. It is not a violent Red Revolution like that of the Soviets, nor is it a White Revolution like that of the Shah of Iran. I call it the Green Revolution.'

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