Press Release



Following are Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s opening remarks at a high-level event on Innovative Approaches to Meeting the Hunger Millennium Development Goal in Africa:  “Africa’s Green Revolution: A Call to Action”, in Addis Ababa, 5 July:

We are here together to discuss one of the most serious problems on earth:  the plague of hunger that has blighted hundreds of millions of African lives -- and will continue to do so unless we act with greater purpose and urgency.

The numbers are all-too-familiar.  Nearly a third of all men, women and children in sub-Saharan Africa are severely undernourished.  Africa is the only continent where child malnutrition is getting worse rather than better.

Tragically, the past decade has seen very little progress.  For dozens of countries, the Millennium Development Goal of halving hunger by the year 2015 seems more a far-off fantasy than an achievable target.

Moreover, the AIDS pandemic is exacerbating the hunger crisis by robbing the continent of a generation of farmers.  In Africa, fighting hunger and fighting AIDS must go hand in hand.

But we have not come together to rattle off statistics, or to recount our collective failures.  We are here to discuss a way forward.  We are here as part of a movement for the rural and agricultural transformation of our beloved continent.

Hunger is a complex crisis.  To solve it, we must address the interconnected challenges of agriculture; health care; nutrition; adverse and unfair market conditions; weak infrastructure; and environmental degradation.

In Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, a green revolution tripled food productivity and helped lift hundreds of millions of people out of hunger.  Africa has not yet had a green revolution of its own.

This is partly because the scientific advances that worked so well elsewhere are not directly applicable to Africa.  Here, we produce a wide and different variety of food crops.  African farmers use a range of farming systems, and depend

largely on rain-fed agriculture rather than irrigation, leaving them vulnerable to climatic shocks.

African farmers also face much higher transport costs.  The soils in which they toil have become severely depleted of nutrients.  Erosion, deforestation and biodiversity loss also take a toll.  As Norman Borlaug, the father of the Asian Green Revolution, once said, “no one can be an environmentalist with an empty stomach”.

The burden is borne by all of society, but women are on the front lines.  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.  It is they who care for people suffering from AIDS.  Yet women lack adequate access to credit, technology, training and services.  They are also denied legal rights -- including, of all things, the right to own land.

Africa’s women and girls also suffer disproportionately in terms of nutrition.  And often, after marrying early, they give birth to low-weight babies because they themselves are undernourished.  Thus the plight of poverty and disease is carried forward to the next generation.  We are here today to end this pattern, and to ensure that Africa’s children enjoy a different inheritance.

The world has fallen terribly short in implementing the plan of action adopted at the World Food Summit in 1996.  Africa in particular has been unable to break free of recurrent hunger crises.

That is why I have challenged the world’s scientists and scholars to give us their ideas, innovations, and intensity, and called on them to rally round the cause of food security and agricultural development in Africa.  Today, as various stakeholders present their proposals, we can begin to see the fruit of their labours.

Two years ago, I asked the InterAcademy Council to come up with a plan for preventing famines and eliminating hunger for many millions of people in Africa.  Last week, the Council put forward a powerful set of ideas that focus in particular on building strong scientific and technical institutions for agriculture -- not as an afterthought, but as a strategic goal.

The Council is also stressing the need not just for a single green revolution, but for a number of “rainbow evolutions” that will respond to a wide range of challenges.  I urge you to listen closely to the Council’s presentation later today.

I also called on the formidable expertise of the United Nations Millennium Project’s Task Force on Hunger.  Its recommendations are far-reaching and refreshingly concrete.  They call on countries to adopt national action plans with six main components:  improving agricultural productivity; enhancing nutrition; promoting market access; restoring degraded farming landscapes; empowering women; and increasing spending on agriculture.

These initiatives and their recommendations are fully in step with the approach endorsed by the World Food Summit, which calls for long-term agricultural and rural development, and short-term help for the needy.  Perhaps most importantly, they are not wishful thinking.  Quite the contrary, they are the product of rigorous analysis and experience.  Given the right kind of national and international support, Africa can achieve the 21st-century green revolution it needs.

What would such a revolution look like?

We would see proven techniques in small-scale irrigation and water harvesting scaled up to provide more crop-per-drop.

We would see improved food crops, developed through publicly funded research focused specifically on Africa.

We would see soil health restored, through agroforestry techniques and organic and mineral fertilizers.

We would see rural productivity increased by electrification and access to information technologies, such as cell phones.

We would have social safety nets -- from grain reserves to early warning systems -– that protect the most vulnerable.

This list could, of course, go on.  But taken one by one, such solutions are bound to remain inadequate.

It makes little sense to help with soils and water, while leaving impoverished villages without improved roads, energy or seeds.

And few productivity improvements will be achieved if soils are healthy, but farm families continue to die of preventable and treatable diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria.

We must also not shy away from considering the potential of biotechnology, which can contribute significantly to the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals, but which must be developed judiciously and used with adequate and transparent safety measures.

Success will require each African government to commit itself wholeheartedly to the Millennium Development Goals, by developing national strategies consistent with the timeline and targets for 2015.

We will need more convincing action from the developed countries to support those strategies:  by phasing out harmful trade practices, by providing technical assistance, and by increasing both the volume of aid to levels consistent with the Goals, and the percentage invested in agriculture, which is half what it was two decades ago.

And we will need close partnerships, with the African Union, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, civil society, the private sector and, of course, African farmers.

Most of all, success will require a political breakthrough.  As today’s presentations will show, knowledge is not lacking.  The basic policy directions

are well established and widely accepted.  What is lacking, as ever, is the will to turn this knowledge into practice.

So let us show the meaning of global solidarity.

Let us all do our part to help Africa’s farmers and their families take their first steps out of chronic poverty, and to help societies make a decisive move towards balanced and sustainable development.

Let us generate a uniquely African green revolution -- a revolution that is long overdue, a revolution that will help the continent in its quest for dignity and peace.

And let us never again allow hunger, needless hunger, to ravage lives and the future of a continent.

I pledge the full support of the United Nations system.  And I thank all those who have worked to make today’s event possible, including the Government and people of Ethiopia who have welcomed us so warmly into their midst.

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For information media. Not an official record.