2 September 2014

Africa: Remarks by Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General and Chair of the Africa Progress Panel, at an APP-hosted side event at the Alliance for a Green Revolution Forum in Addis Ababa


Remarks by Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General and Chair of the Africa Progress Panel, at an APP-hosted side event at the Alliance for a Green Revolution Forum in Addis Ababa

1. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

2. It is indeed a great pleasure for me to see so many of you here this afternoon to discuss this important topic, a topic which should concern all African leaders and all African citizens, the transformation of African agriculture, including its fisheries. This is a very critical issue for the continent. For I believe transformation of African agriculture could improve the lives of tens, if not hundreds, of millions of people on our continent. We know that agriculture can create jobs, we know that two thirds of Africans live on the farm and fisheries. We know that it can establish affordable, reliable supply of food, and generate faster, fairer growth across the value chain involving farmers, suppliers, transporters, processors, and a myriad other operators. You can just imagine the jobs that can be created if we went that route.

3. Unfortunately, the neglect of these sectors has allowed inequality on our continent to accelerate. African economies may have grown rapidly, with average incomes rising by a third. But poverty and malnutrition is expanding too.

4. To take a single statistic: Africa spends roughly US$35 billion a year on food imports. Could you imagine if this money, or a substantial portion of it went to African farmers and the fishing communities instead of foreign businesses? Could you imagine what impact this would have on the lives of (recording not clear) who toil on our farms day in and day out, out there alone, often with very little help from the government or the society.

5. The unacceptable reality is that too many African farms are woefully underperforming. Productivity levels are a fraction of their potential.

6. This underperformance impacts Africa’s food and nutrition security. Africa counts for one sixth of the world population, yet we have a third of the world’s malnourished.

7. If allowed to continue, this underperformance will have further negative consequences for our continent. Africa’s rapidly growing towns and cities - and we talk of urbanisation - are projected to grow to 60 percent of the population by 2050. How are we going to feed them? How do they survive if we don’t improve our agriculture and supply the cities? Without access to reliable food supplies, they could become a flashpoint for political and social instability.

8. Looming above all that are the challenges of climate change exacerbating all these issues.

9. Solutions to these issues are broadly known. Our farmers need more investment from governments, businesses, including multinationals, to enhance (recording not clear) and financial services such as credit and insurance, and quality inputs such as seeds and fertilisers.

10. Public-private partnerships will be key to Africa’s agricultural success. But to stand the test of time, these partnerships must be mutually beneficial. Africa’s productivity levels could easily double within five years. This in turn could dramatically reduce hunger and move subsistence farmers into commercial areas, commercial cooperatives. Africa’s smallholder farmers must benefit from these partnerships, working together with large commercial agribusinesses for better, more sustainable success. It should not be a question of large versus small. I know that debate goes on: Do we need large commercial farms? Do we need outsiders coming in?

11. The challenge before us therefore is to unblock the political obstacles that prevent farmers from thriving. Today’s discussion offers excellent opportunity to identify these political obstacles and the ways in which we, civil society, can help unblock them.

12. Before we begin our discussions, I would like to make a few suggestions.

13. First, civil society must hold both government and businesses to account. And they themselves must be accountable. I have worked a lot with civil societies and today I see myself as civil society (laughter). So we can talk frankly.

14. African governments committed to investments, more investments, in agriculture more than a decade ago. For example, as far back as 2003, Africa’s leaders agreed to allocate at least 10 percent of their national budgets to agriculture. At the recent Malabo Summit, African leaders signed up to a renewed set of targets.

15. The promises which count, we must remember, are those which are implemented, which are kept. It is only promises which are kept, which matter. So we are looking at our leaders. They made fresh promises and we will see where we go from here. Countries which have begun to ramp up their investment are already seeing impressive results. But most leaders have yet to meet their commitments.

16. Malnutrition is a political failure. And as the saying goes, people who live in democracy and under democratic rule do not starve, because the leaders and the politicians know the implications. If they starve, they will not be around much to protect their leaders and their government.

17. Africa’s political leaders must be held accountable and civil society has a critical role to play in translating commitments into action. A united civil society can be more effective in demanding governments to act. And so I urge you to pool your efforts, pool your resources to make the change that you want to see.

18. Second, civil society must support the creativity and dynamism of our young entrepreneurs or “agropreneurs” as they are called. Many of them are women. The ground-breaking technologies and approaches developed by our young men and women can now be extended through our continent and globally.

19. Third, civil society must take these issues to the global level. After all, Africa’s harvests and fish could help fix some of the world’s most pressing challenges: securing food and nutrition security for a rapidly growing population, providing jobs for millions of otherwise disaffected youth in Africa and elsewhere. And so the rest of the world must also help Africa towards achievement of these solutions.

20. I wish everybody a good and interesting discussion this afternoon. With two thirds of all Africans relying on farming and fisheries for their livelihoods, Africa’s unique green and blue revolutions will be critical for our collective future.

Thank you very much.

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