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posted 07/06/04

Contact: Mariellen Gallagher
212-854-2583 or mgallagher@ei.columbia.edu

Contact: Mr. Tiff Harris
254-20-524141 (Addis)
254-20-524000 (Operator), 650-833-6645 (USA line)

t.harris@cgiar.org

Innovative Approaches to Meet the Hunger Millennium Development Goal in Africa

Two hundred million of the world's hungry live in Africa. Recognizing that a "business as usual" approach will not significantly reduce hunger, on July 5, 2005, an extraordinary gathering of African Heads of State, government ministers, world leaders, and hunger experts is focusing on practical, innovative solutions to cut in half the number of hungry and malnourished people in Africa by 2015. 

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and the United Nation's Millennium Project Hunger Task Force are convening the high-level gathering, which will identify policies and technologies that together could resolve the problem of widespread hunger and malnutrition.  The actions will focus on improving the nutrition of vulnerable groups, raising agricultural productivity of small farms, and improving market functions.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan is calling upon Africa's leaders to launch a "Twenty-first Century African Green Revolution" to end chronic hunger on the continent. Chronic hunger does far more than inflict terrible suffering. It abets the spread of disease, renders people incapable of working or learning, and raises the risk of political instability.

To break the "pattern of recurring crisis and to ensure that Africa's children enjoy a different inheritance," the Secretary General is urging Africa's political leaders to adopt the recommendations made by the Hunger Task Force.  

Cutting hunger in half by 2015 is one of eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by UN member states in 2000.to reduce global poverty. The Millennium

Project is charged with advising United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on strategies to achieve these goals, which address poverty, hunger, education, health, gender, environment, water, urban development, international trade, and science and technology policy.

"There is no reason why people today should be starving," says Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Millennium Project and the Earth Institute at Columbia University. "No rich-country citizen has to compromise his standard of living in order to end extreme hunger.  It would make sense for the world's rich countries to pitch in the tiny percentage of their wealth necessary to solve this problem."

"Solutions already exist to many of the worst hunger problems," says Pedro Sanchez, co-chair of the Millennium Project's Hunger Task Force.

The Task Force has identified "hunger hot spots" in Africa, and the most vulnerable populations.  It has developed an overall strategy to overcome hunger that includes restoring budgetary priority to agriculture as an engine of economic growth, empowering women, and promoting community-based hunger-reduction actions that will boost agricultural production, improve nutrition, develop rural markets and infrastructure, and promote environmental sustainability.

Policies to Support Hunger Reduction

The Task Force – under the leadership of World Food Prize recipients Pedro Sanchez and M.S. Swaminathan – recently concluded that the science-based technology in agriculture, nutrition, market development and repairing degraded agricultural landscapes now exists to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of cutting world hunger in half by 2015. 

Sanchez, one of the world's leading experts on tropical soils, is convinced that promoting ecologically sound agriculture will minimize tradeoffs between increasing productivity and the preservation of natural resources. "In places where agricultural land has been severely degraded, we now have highly productive, environmentally-friendly techniques to bring the land back and make it productive."

"There are proven technologies for hunger alleviation that, if implemented together and brought up to scale, can dramatically reduce hunger within a short period of time," he said. Sanchez notes, for example, that efforts in Southern Africa to use leguminous trees to restore soil fertility have proven highly successful and are on course to be adopted by an estimated 400,000 farm families before the end of 2006.

"The critical constraints are supportive policies, political commitment and the delineation of clear roles and responsibilities," he says.

Swaminathan, who is widely credited for the success of India's Green Revolution, notes in the Task Force Interim Report that, for Africa to achieve its own Green Revolution "governments and donors must give priority to agriculture and rural development and emphasize investments that empower women and girls." 

Swaminathan also urges Africa's heads of state to make agriculture and rural investment a clear priority in their Poverty Reduction Strategies, noting that "agricultural growth has a larger impact on hunger than would growth in industry or the service sector and is a major factor in poverty reduction." He calls the recent resolution by members of the African Union to increase their agriculture budgets by 10 percent "a major step in the right direction."

Other policy improvements called for in the Task Force's recommendations include:

  • A massive on-the-job training program to help governments, non-governmental organizations and rural communities implement the Millennium Development Goals, along with a major effort to mitigate the impact of HIV/AIDS;
  • The building, repair, and maintenance of roads, information and communications systems, health and school facilities;
  • The establishment of food safety nets that minimize the incidence of acute hunger without disrupting local commodity markets;
  • Policies that promote increased access and ownership of land, particularly by women;
  • Fair and stable economic and trade policies that do not discriminate against the agricultural sector, in particular policies that address subsidies that promote inefficiencies in global agricultural trade or subsidize inputs; and
  • The provision of incentives that support sustainable natural resources management, including biodiversity, soils, water, forests grassland and fisheries.

Additional priorities, Sanchez notes, include:

  • Community-based nutrition policies that rely on locally produced food to break the cycle of childhood malnutrition and micronutrient deficiency.
  • Creating environments conducive to markets, businesses, and farms, including business codes that respect contracts and the power to enforce them.
  • Governments and the private sector were also urged to build of institutions and infrastructure that effectively link markets and bring farmers into the cash economy.

Science and Productivity

The Task Force concludes that stronger efforts must be made to finance agricultural research, both national and international, in order to increase agricultural productivity on small farms. 

"Researchers have made significant progress in dealing with the problems of soil fertility and drought and have developed safe and effective forms of insect and disease management," notes Sanchez.  Researchers have developed drought tolerant maize varieties that can survive with limited rainfall under a wide range of African conditions.

The original Green Revolution was a major achievement in Asia and Latin America, but reached only a small fraction of Africa's farmers. "New technologies, such as drought tolerant maize, high protein legumes bred for African soil types, and superior methods for managing livestock are now available to help bring about the ‘21st century African Green Revolution' called for by the United Nations Secretary-General," says Sanchez. "The technology to make possible such a revolution is here; what is needed is the political will to make it reality."

A Sampling of Activities Underway in Africa

While the political will to engender an African Green Revolution may be lacking in a number of African countries, a number of others have developed and are working to implement poverty and hunger Action Plans designed to achieve the Hunger MDG in Africa. Leaders from several countries are presenting Action Plans during the July 5th Seminar, and technical experts are providing examples of promising new approaches to fighting hunger on the Continent.

Ethiopia – Over 86% of Ethiopia's population is engaged in agriculture, contributing about 43% of the country's GDP. The agricultural sector, however, faces numerous challenges. To address these challenges and improve the welfare of Ethiopia's rural residents, the Government has launched its Sustainable Development and Poverty Reduction Program. This is a significant step towards creating a supportive and enabling policy environment to address food insecurity. Within this policy framework, the Government and its many development partners have created the New Coalition for Food Security, with a five-year goal of attaining food security for five million chronically food-insecure people. At the core of this effort is a focus on increasing domestic agricultural production. 

Over 65% of Ethiopia's landmass is made up of moisture-stressed agroecological areas. To increase agricultural productivity in these areas, the country has undertaken to scale up a variety of affordable water harvesting technologies – ranging from cisterns and small artificial reservoirs, to shallow wells for small-scale irrigation, to more efficient water use techniques, such as simple drip irrigation methods. Appropriate rainwater harvesting "packages" are being developed and promoted by the country's agricultural extension professionals. During the past two years, well over 250,000 rainwater harvesting "micro-ponds" and over 87,000 shallow wells were constructed. Nearly 5000 natural springs were developed and over 21,000 small-scale river diversions were implemented. These achievements have involved a large number of farmers, who are now producing a wider variety of crops, including nutrient-dense vegetables and fruits, as well as commercially valuable spices.

Ghana – "Education for all" means ensuring that all children have access to good quality basic education. But clearly, in many African countries the ability to learn and perform well in school is compromised due to ill health, hunger and malnourishment, which affect a significant proportion of school-age children. Ghana is one of 10 African countries selected by NEPAD to pilot a School Feeding Programme Based on Locally Grown Food. The Government of Ghana proposes to cover 1.7 million pupils over a 5-year period (2005-2009). The long-term objective of the Programme is to create the foundation for community based development to eliminate hunger and poverty.

The Programme aims to facilitate development and implementation of community-based strategies to reduce short-term hunger and malnutrition, while improving school enrollment, attendance, retention and performance. Because all food commodities used in the Programme are to be purchased locally, the initiative will also strengthen local food production systems. Thus, by linking the fight against hunger with the improvement of basic education, this innovative programme will contribute significantly to the reduction of poverty and food insecurity in Ghana.

Kenya – Reducing poverty and advancing development are at the top of the Kenyan Government's agenda today. Like many African countries, during the past decade Kenya has been moving away, rather than towards, attaining the Hunger MDG. There has been a notable increase in the number of people living on less than US$ 1.00 per day, rising from 43% of the population in 1990 to 52% in 2000. The Government recognizes agricultural development as the key to economic growth, and has recently launched an ambitious Strategy for Revitalizing Agriculture, which outlines the policies and institutional reforms that the Government will implement to achieve sound agricultural and economic growth – essential elements for achieving the Hunger MDG. The Government's plan aims to reverse the trend towards increasing poverty in the country, with specific targets of reducing the number of people living in poverty by an ambitious 8% per year for the next three years, followed by further reductions of 6.5% per year for the subsequent five years.

Kenya is drawing on the global recommendations of the Hunger Task Force, and is developing specific investment plans tailored to local conditions aimed at assisting five major groups of people: small-holder maize farmers; pastoralists and small-scale livestock producers; landless unemployed rural and urban people; those dealing with the consequences of disasters, such as floods, drought, and civil conflict; and other highly vulnerable populations. The costs of concrete, practical interventions are being estimated and worked into the Government's future budgets, and a more collaborative institutional framework is being established to help ensure effective implementation.

Uganda – Over 85% of Uganda's population lives in rural areas, and agriculture is the major source of livelihoods, employing over 80% of the country's labor force. The Government of Uganda is implementing a Plan for Modernization of Agriculture, developed as part of the country's overall Poverty Eradication Action Plan, and is embracing the vision of achieving poverty eradication through a profitable, competitive, sustainable and dynamic agricultural and agro-industrial sector. The idea is to transform Uganda's widespread subsistence agriculture into a viable commercial agricultural sector, reorienting the production of poor farmers towards market opportunities. The Modernization Plan aims to accelerate agricultural growth by introducing "profound technological change" throughout the sector, and in so doing, maintaining a downward pressure on real food prices, thereby raising the real incomes of the poor, including those in urban areas. It is envisioned that declining food prices will help stimulate labor-intensive industrialization and contribute to higher rates of economic growth.

The Millennium Project's Hunger Task Force is chaired by Professor Jeffery Sachs of Columbia University's Earth Institute in New York City. The Hunger Task Force is made up of 31 distinguished scientists and development experts from science, civil society, government, the private sector, UN agencies and philanthropy. For more information visit: http://www.unmillenniumproject.org/