Progress has been made but more still needs to be done to help small farmers who are dependent on what they grow on only a few acres for their survival, former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said Thursday.
Annan, who is chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, spoke at the World Food Prize Symposium in Des Moines, Iowa, stressing the urgent need to help such farmers overcome the challenges they face.
"Without coordinated and urgent action, they most basic goal of reducing poverty and world hunger is at risk of not being met by 2015 in many countries," Annan said. "Closing this gap is not just a moral imperative, it also lies at the core of a more secure and equitable world."
The World Food Prize was founded by Iowa native Normal Borlaug, who received the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for helping increase food production in developing nations. Borlaug, who died just before the start of last year's conference, is also known as the father of the "Green Revolution."
Annan said food and nutrition security is a growing challenge as the world's population continues to increase. He said the problem is particularly urgent in Africa, which is the only continent which does not grow enough food to feed itself. He said many of the science-based developments that helped transform food production in Asia have bypassed Africa.
African governments pulled back from investing in agriculture over the past century and the private sector did not fill the void, he said.
Poor seeds planted in depleted soils, poor management of land and water resources, and weak economic and infrastructure links also hindered agricultural development.
"African farmers found themselves severely disadvantaged by an unbalanced global trade regime which sets up barriers to potential export markets," Annan said.
The result, he said, was "falling agricultural productivity, farmers trapped in poverty, growing shortages of food and millions going hungry.
But he also said strides have been made in recent years.
African nations adopted the Comprehensive Africa-Agriculture Development Program seven years ago, calling on governments to invest a minimum of 10 percent of their budgets into farming. The combined with international organizations, has led to what Annan described as an "unprecedented coalition" that's making change happen.
Much of the success has been driven by outside funding, and Annan said farmers need to see sustained support and reliable markets to make the success permanent.
"We must do more by removing the barriers in their way," he said.
He called on African banks to increase agricultural lending and said African governments must provide the necessary resources and policies to help farmers. It's also important for the developed world to uphold its commitments to Africa's development, Annan said.
The private sector also will play a big role in evolving opportunities in Africa, he said.
"Like any successful revolution, the goal must be permanent reform," he said. "It is a challenge which all of us must work to overcome because we all have a stake in Africa's future. Without a prosperous, stable and peaceful Africa, our ambitions for our world will not succeed."
Later Thursday, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and the agriculture ministers from Afghanistan and Pakistan discussed collaborative efforts to work toward food security in the two nations, promote trade agreements between the countries and improve availability of water for irrigation.