In Rwanda earlier this summer, I visited a rural project with the lyrical name, IBYIRINGIRO. It means “hope” in Kinyarwanda, and trumpets this slogan: “that in which we have faith for a better tomorrow.”
The “that” in which Ibyiringiro puts its faith is better nutrition. Better nutrition for a better tomorrow. It is a message carried by neighborhood health workers and put into practice through community-based nutrition education, the promotion of vegetable gardens and cooking demonstrations that draw big, curious crowds. It began as a program for people living with HIV/AIDS, but the Ibyiringiro philosophy spreads through entire communities.
“We were finding households with enough food but the children were malnourished,” said Erisa Mutabazi, the manager of the Ibyiringiro project for World Vision in Rwanda. “They might have a lot of food, but they didn’t know how to balance it. They would eat only one type of food during a season.”
“More often than not here,” he said, “food insecurity is not caused by lack of food but poor utilization of available food.”
This important revelation will appropriately be at the center of next week’s deliberations on reducing poverty and hunger when the United Nations’ examines the progress – or lack of it – on achieving the Millennium Development Goals by the target date of 2015. It will particularly be the focus of Tuesday’s special U.S.-Irish initiative to highlight undernutrition as one of the world’s most serious but least addressed problems.
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From Left: Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General and current Chairman, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa; Tanzanian Prime Minister Mizengo P. Pinda
While attending the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) in Accra, Ghana, last weekend, Roger Thurow, senior fellow for global agriculture and food policy at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, interviewed Kofi Annan, former United Nations Secretary General and Chairman of the Board of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), and Mizengo P. Pinda, Prime Minister of Tanzania, on how to promote investments and policy support for driving agricultural productivity and income growth for African farmers.
Roger's interview with Kofi Annan, carried out in concert with National Journal reporter Jerry Hagstrom, can be found here.
Roger's interview with Prime Minister Pinda can be accessed here.
That’s how Kofi Annan described the ambitions of a group of farmers he had met on a visit to Mali before arriving here to head up the African Green Revolution Forum.
“I heard their hope for a future,” said the former United Nations secretary general. “To do better year after year.”
Amid the Forum’s talk of improved seeds, and better fertilizer use, and micro-financing, and building harvest storage facilities and creating markets, another crucial element for transforming African agriculture is gaining prominence: shifting farmer ambitions from merely obtaining sustenance to making profits, from merely living to making a living.
“Leave behind subsistence farming and run farms as a business, create surpluses,” Annan told the gathering.
It is one of the strange realities of Africa that all of these subsistence farmers, growing food to feed their families and living on the far margins of any economy, add up to the biggest business in Africa. “For a long time we’ve been taking agriculture as a way of life. But agriculture is the largest business there is in Africa,” said Namanga Ngongi, the president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, which itself was formed from an alliance between the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Agriculture gives employment to 60-70% of the people, 35-40% of a nation’s gross domestic product. Clearly it’s a business. It’s big business. The food crops (mainly grown by the small farmers) are worth something like $200 billion, the cash crops $15-20 billion. We need to support smallholder farmers in the biggest business in Africa.”
In Africa, the Way to an agriculture revolution has long been clear. The original Green Revolution in Asia, in the 1960s and ‘70s, provides the classic roadmap.
But where there’s a Way doesn’t mean there is a Will. In fact, the Will to develop agriculture in Africa has long been missing.
“Africa must take the bull by the horns and tackle the structural reasons for underproduction,” urged Mizengo Kayanza Peter Pinda, the prime minister of Tanzania, at the opening of the African Green Revolution Forum here Thursday. His earthy command set a tone of impatience for Africa to finally muster the political will to realize its agriculture potential.
“In Asia, the work of scientists was important, yes, but also the work of politicians to lay the policy framework,” said Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general who is now chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, the host of the forum. Africa, noted Annan, a native Ghanian, needs “fundamental changes in government priorities.”
Several countries are leading the way in finally elevating agriculture. They are reducing reliance on international good will, and exercising their own political will to feed their people. To accomplish this, they are finally allying with the private sector. Tanzania launched a Farming First initiative last year, pouring more resources into agriculture; this year, food production is doubling. Governments are also hailing agriculture in Malawi, Rwanda, Ghana, Ethiopia and Mali, and their harvests of maize, wheat, rice and beans are growing strongly.
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