Farmers in Africa must take a page from their counterparts in the U.S. and lobby their governments for the kind of economic support that can help them feed their countrymen, the winner of an award named for the late Dr. Norman Borlaug says.
Dr. Akin Adesina, vice president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa or AGRA, said the world food crisis that occurred when world food prices soared in 2008 was a wakeup call for the farmers and governments of Africa.
“While the causes of the food crisis are several, what stands out clearly is that decades of underinvestment have hurt us,” said Akin, who spoke at the World Food Prize Symposium in Des Moines, Iowa, after receiving the 2010 Borlaug CAST Award for his efforts to increase African food production.
“The world needs to redouble efforts to produce more food, to engineer a green revolution, one that accelerates food production while sustaining the environment.”
Adesina, who completed a doctorate degree in economics from Purdue University in 1988, said estimates are that 300 million people in Africa live on less than $1 a day and that many of those suffer from chronic malnutrition.
Africa, he said, is the only continent in which food production per capita has declined in the last three decades.
“Science and technology, enabled by good policies, are our most critical arsenals in the global fight against hunger,” he said. “They will unlock opportunities for millions of the world’s poorest farmers. But we must connect science, technology and politics.
He noted that the United States was preparing for congressional elections in November. “There is power in democracy. We chose leaders, but then leaders must do the right things. The basic right, the power to influence what leaders do, is denied to millions in Africa. While agriculture in Africa accounts for 70 percent of employment and 45 percent to 60 percent of GDP, it receives less than 5 percent of government budgets.”
For too long, agricultural scientists have felt that doing science was all that mattered, Adesina said. “We stopped talking to and challenging leaders on agriculture. As a result, support for agriculture has plummeted.”
He asked listeners to take a look at the United States and its vast lands to see what keeps its dynamic agricultural engine going. “It is the power of farmers and their lobbyists in Washington,” he noted.
“No politician hoping to become president can ignore the American heartland. And they start off right here in Iowa, one of America’s breadbasket states. Meanwhile, in Africa, the political cost of inaction on hunger and poverty has been zero.”
Adesina was the keynote speaker at a special CAST (Council for Agricultural Science and Technology) breakfast that was held at the beginning of the World Food Prize activities. The World Food Prize was founded by Borlaug to recognize the contributions of those dedicated to relieving world hunger.
As a vice president of AGRA, Adesina helps set policy and advises former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, current chairman of the board of AGRA. Recently, Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, appointed Adesina as one of the 17 world leaders who will consolidate global efforts toward achieving the U.N. Millennium Development Goals by 2015.
Read the complete text of Adesina’s speech at the World Food Prize.