05 July 2007

UN Food Agencies Urge 'Green Revolution' in Africa

SWITZERLAND: July 5, 2007

GENEVA - United Nations food agencies on Wednesday called for global backing for a "Green Revolution" in Africa to help the continent build stable agricultural systems and rescue tens of millions of people from poverty.

The agencies -- the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) -- said more aid should go to African farming to create economic growth and cut poverty.

"Today, we urge world leaders to walk with African farmers on that path," IFAD's Vice-President Kanayo Nwanze said.

The idea of a Green Revolution for Africa, inspired by a similarly named programme that helped many Asian countries, especially India, out of underdevelopment in the 1970s, has been championed by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

At a joint news conference in Geneva, the three UN agencies said the African version should not copy the Asian experience but be based on African realities, focusing on small-scale farming and help in empowering women.

Over the past 15 years, according to the FAO, the number of hungry people in Africa has increased by 45 million to a total of 220 million -- around a third of the continent's population and one quarter of the world's under-nourished people.

Yields of maize and other staple cereals in Africa remained at under 1.0 tonne per hectare, about half average yields in Asia and Latin America.

The UN agencies said the main causes of food insecurity were weak institutions, insufficient investment in agriculture by national governments and donor countries, a harsh environment made worse by climate change, corruption and mismanagement.

At a separate news conference, the UN adviser and US academic Jeffrey Sachs said Ghana, Tanzania, Madagascar and Malawi were among African countries which have benefited from good governance in past years, helping drive economic progress.

But Sachs, who is director of the Earth Institute at New York's Columbia University, said problems arose because many decision-makers in donor nations "don't know the quality of governance that is emerging in many African countries".

The IFAD's Nwanze said recent agricultural success in Africa had come when there was political support at the highest levels.

Although he did not mention Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe by name, Nwanze said the continent would get nowhere if its leaders continued to blame wrongs in the colonial past for poverty instead of advancing needed reforms.

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