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posted 07/06/04

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UN Secretary-General Calls for 21st Century African Green Revolution
Scientists Say Technology to End Hunger in Africa is Ready for Deployment

Kasungo district farmer

A farmer in the Kasungu district of Malawi stands in a flourishing cornfield. By replenishing soil fertility using a technique developed and promulgated by Pedro Sanchez, corn production in many parts of Africa has dramatically improved. Sanchez is director of the Tropical Agriculture Program at the Earth Institute and co-chair of the Hunger Task Force, part of the UN Millennium Project. Photo by Lisa Dreier

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, July 5, 2004 -- United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for the launch of a "twenty-first century African Green Revolution" to end chronic hunger on the continent.

Speaking at a special meeting of African heads of state and leading policymakers organized by the Ethiopian Government and the Hunger Task Force of the UN Millennium Project — an independent advisory body to the Secretary-General — Annan noted that, "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."

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

"Knowledge is not lacking," he noted. "What is lacking, as ever, is the will to turn this knowledge into practice."

"Success will require African governments to commit themselves wholeheartedly to the Millennium Development Goals, by developing national strategies consistent with the timeline and targets for 2015," said the Secretary-General. "We will also 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 [Millennium Development] Goals."

"We need to scale up what we know works," said Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, co-host of the Seminar. "We must move beyond pilot projects, and we must do so today, not tomorrow."

Meles described the development role of government and NGOs as supplementary to the role of smallholder farmers and local communities. He said that one of Ethiopia's biggest development challenges is social mobilization at the community level. "If we are going to succeed," he stated, "then farmers must feel that they own the development process — that they are able to establish the investment priorities that are most appropriate to their own needs."

Policies to Support Hunger Reduction

The Millennium Project has emphasized that a dramatic reduction in hunger is central to achieving the Millennium Goals, and that Africa requires a major scale-up of efforts in agricultural productivity, nutrition and market development in order to end hunger.

The Millennium Project's Task Force on Hunger — under the leadership of World Food Prize laureates Pedro Sanchez and M.S. Swaminathan — recently concluded that the necessary science-based technology in agriculture, nutrition, market development and repairing degraded agricultural landscapes have been piloted and tested and now need to expanded to national scales in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of cutting 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," Sanchez said.  "The critical constraints are supportive policies, resources, political commitment and the delineation of clear roles and responsibilities."

Swaminathan, who is widely credited for the success of India's Green Revolution, notes in the Hunger Task Force's 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

Africa is Committed to Achieving the Hunger MDG

"In the last 40 years, Africa has been the only continent where the average per capita food production is constantly decreasing," noted Joaquim Alberto Chissano, President of Mozambique and Chair of the African Union. He called for the participation of all key stakeholders on the continent — both in government and in civil society — to develop concrete action programmes and partnerships to fight chronic hunger.

"Beyond action plans for food security, there is need for peace and security across the continent," said Alpha Oumar Konare, Chair of the African Union Commission. "Hunger and food insecurity will only increase in the next decade if wars and conflict in Africa are not brought under control," he said. Current civil conflicts in Africa, coupled with natural disasters such as drought and floods, have forced some seven million people to become refugees. "Without bringing conflicts under control, the problem of food insecurity simply cannot be addressed," stated Konare. "We must come out of this logic of emergency aid and the resulting dependency on aid. Africa should have sovereignty over its own food production, set its own agenda, and find its own place in the world."

"The problem of hunger in Africa is immense and rooted in history, but it is also soluble within our lifetime," said Jacques Diouf, Director-General of FAO. "We know what to do to end hunger." Eliminating hunger and food insecurity on the continent does not require a leap in technology. What is required, says Diouf, is the commitment of African leaders to translate these technologies into coherent and effective programmes. He called on development partners to build on the "momentum that now exists for a renewed effort to fight hunger" in Africa.

"Africa has not yet had its green revolution," said Jeffrey Sachs, Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General on the Millennium Development Goals and Director of the Millennium Project. "We have the technology today to bring about this revolution in a totally environmentally sound manner." Sachs emphasized the need for the world's rich countries to follow through on their commitment of the 2002 Monterrey Consensus to "make concrete efforts towards the target of 0.7 percent of gross national product" as official development assistance to developing countries. This would mark a dramatic increase from the current level of 0.23% of rich country GNP. "No new promises are needed," he said, "just the fulfillment of those already long made."

Sachs noted that studies conducted by the Millennium Project and the World Bank show that the Millennium Development Goals are achievable within the 0.7 target. He was also emphatic that debt cancellation in many of the poorest countries is a necessity in order for them to achieve the MDGs. "No civilized society would expect the impoverished countries of the world, where hunger and malnutrition are so widespread, to repay the loans of the past."

Sachs also stated that "it is time we got serious about the scale of the problems we are trying to address, and the magnitude of the resources needed to overcome them." Current financial commitments by developed countries are, he said, simply insufficient to address the challenges before us.

(Download pdf of Jeffrey Sach's full speech at the Presidential-Level Forum on "Innovative Approaches to Meeting the Hunger MDG in Africa," Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, July 5, 2004.)

The Way Forward

In closing the Seminar, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Director of the UNDP Africa Bureau noted that participants had agreed to work together to launch the African Green Revolution needed to achieve the Hunger MDG by 2015. "We need to increase investment and align priorities with scaling up best practices, he said, "and focus on practical solutions at the village level, such as water harvesting, soil improvement, new crop varieties and heartier breeds of livestock."

The high-level Seminar was attended by 550 people, including seven heads of state, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, numerous development partners, and leaders from the African and global agricultural science community.

For more information about the recent Millennium Project Presidential Level Seminar, "Innovative Approaches to Meeting the Hunger MDG in Africa" in Addis Abba, visit http://www.unmillenniumproject.org/html/addis/welcome.shtm.

For background information on innovative approaches to meeting the Hunger Development Goal in Africa, click here.

The Millennium Project is an independent advisory body to the UN Secretary-General that is directed by Professor Jeffrey Sachs of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, in New York City. The Millennium Project's Task Force on Hunger is co-chaired by Dr. Pedro Sanchez and Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, and is comprised of 31 distinguished development experts from science, civil society, government, the private sector, UN agencies and philanthropic organizations. For more information on the Millennium Development Goals and the Millennium Project, including the interim report of the Task Force on Hunger, visit: http://www.unmillenniumproject.org/

The Earth Institute at Columbia University is among the world’s leading academic centers for the integrated study of Earth, its environment, and society. The Earth Institute builds upon excellence in the core disciplines—earth sciences, biological sciences, engineering sciences, social sciences and health sciences—and stresses cross-disciplinary approaches to complex problems. Through its research, training and global partnerships, it mobilizes science and technology to advance sustainable development, while placing special emphasis on the needs of the world’s poor.