Annan, Melinda Gates Call for More Action to Improve Agriculture

Special report from the 2012 AGRF, Arusha, Tanzania

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)’s chairman Kofi Annan and Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, on Wednesday challenged African governments to make more efforts towards agricultural transformation.

“African governments should carry out research and come up with right policies, providing infrastructure for agriculture and supporting their farmers,” Annan said at the beginning of a 3-day African Green Revolution Forum 2012 taking place in Arusha, Tanzania.

Annan therefore urged African governments to invest in the sector not only for food security, but also because it has a huge potential to reduce the unemployment rate.

“Agriculture offers us a real opportunity not only to feed ourselves, but also to create employment opportunities for young people and generate revenue in rural areas,” he pointed out. “If we can do that, people are not going to continue rushing to cities to live in slums the way they are doing.”

Prior the meeting, Annan and Gates had visited rural cassava farmers and a commercial village that is part of the Cassava Village Processing Programme (CVPP), an initiative that is supported by AGRA and implemented by Farm Concern International (FCI) in Eastern Africa, to learn more about the impact that higher yields and increased market opportunities bring to farm families.

“Transformation in agriculture can be achieved and it is taking place,” Annan said, calling upon private sector and financial services to embrace the initiative to boost the sector.

The co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the major sponsors of the African Green Revolution program, urged governments to implement their commitment reflected by 2003 Maputo Declaration to allocate at least 10% of their national budget towards agriculture to support small farmers.

Kofi and Melinda visiting farmers in Arusha(photo AGRF)

Kofi and Melinda visiting farmers in Arusha(photo AGRF)

“Everything we are talking about today is to put farmers at the center,” Melinda Gates said, adding that they need to be connected to a larger market and not put their produce on market when price is low, so that they can get more revenue.

Joe Devries, the Program for Africa’s Seed System (PASS) director at AGRA, told me that the organization has been playing a great role in providing improved seeds in Rwanda since six years ago. He said that so far, in partnership with Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) and agro-dealers such as Win-Win, they have developed 22 new varieties of beans and 10 of maize, while potatoes will come next.

The Forum brings together hundreds of stakeholders to assess the agricultural progress made in Africa to date, and the continuing investments in agriculture needed to build self-sufficient and more prosperous societies for the long term.

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