September 2, 2010 | By Roger Thurow

Where There's a Will…

Accra, Ghana

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.

The forum, which Annan labeled “a call to action,” was teeming with a keen awareness that this is Africa’s time to step up.  The world will need to double its agriculture production by 2050 and Africa – because it has fallen so far behind the rest of the world in the use of hybrid seeds, fertilizer and irrigation — is poised to deliver the greatest leap in harvests.  Africa can leverage this global need to produce more food to radically alter its image from continent of problem to continent of solution.

“We have the land, the farmers, the know-how.  The time is ripe to invest in African agriculture,” Annan said.  “Africa’s farmers are poised to deliver long-term solutions.”

Tanzania’s prime minister echoed, “Africa is a sleeping giant.  It’s time to awaken this giant.”

The Will to politically support the Way to a Green Revolution in Africa evaporated in the 1980s and 1990s – the era of “structural adjustment” when the World Bank and leading development institutions urged African governments to get out of agriculture for the sake of fiscal austerity.  Across the continent, support for farmers drastically declined.  Agriculture infrastructure collapsed and yields fell far below potential while money flowed into urban development projects.  One of Africa’s greatest paradoxes emerged: hunger spread across a continent where two-thirds of its residents are engaged in farming.

“The giant slept,” said Prime Minister Pinda.  “When Africa woke up it had learned a lesson: you must develop agriculture on your own terms.”  He added: “Agriculture policies drove the Green Revolution in Asia.  Until African countries shape their own policies, they won’t have a Green Revolution.”

Those policies include increasing government spending to support farmers and creating a climate for local and international investment in agriculture.  And to commit to doing so for the long term.

“If people are going to invest and be encouraged to return to agriculture, they need to be assured that the policies will be continued, to make their investments sustainable.  In Africa, new governments want to start afresh, sometimes not just start afresh but to undo what the previous government has done,” he said to great applause.

He continued to chide and exhort his fellow Africans: “If we believe that agriculture is important, we have to push it higher up the political agenda and keep up the pressure that politicians can’t continue to refuse to deal with it.  People have power.  If leaders don’t lead, they can be led.  If they don’t listen today, they will listen in the year of elections.”


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The latest podcast in our ongoing series with Roger Thurow. Hear how even the best nutrition projects can be undermined by bad water, poor sanitation and hygiene, and lousy infrastructure.  From northern Uganda, we hear a mother’s agony when her healthy, robust child suddenly falls ill after a few sips of water…unclean water, it turned out.

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Digital Preview of The First 1,000 Days

In his new book, The First 1,000 Days, Council senior fellow Roger Thurow illuminates the 1,000 Days initiative to end early childhood malnutrition through the compelling stories of new mothers in Uganda, India, Guatemala, and Chicago. Get a first-look at photos and stories from the book in this new web interactive.

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» Order your copy of the book.


The First 1,000 Days

Roger Thurow’s book will tell the story of the vital importance of proper nutrition and health care in the 1,000 days window from the beginning of a woman’s pregnancy to her child’s second birthday.

The 1,000 days period is the crucial period of development, when malnutrition can have severe life-long impacts on the individual, the family and society as a whole. Nutritional deficiencies that occur during this time are often overlooked, resulting in a hidden hunger. It is a problem of great human and economic dimensions, impacting rich and poor countries alike.

Learn more »

The Last Hunger Season

In The Last Hunger Season, the intimate dramas of the farmers' lives unfold amidst growing awareness that to feed the world's growing population, food production must double by 2050. How will the farmers, Africa, and a hungrier world deal with issues of water usage, land ownership, foreign investment, corruption, GMO's, the changing role of women, and the politics of foreign aid?

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Roger Thurow and Scott Kilman, award-winning writers on Africa, development, and agriculture, see famine as the result of bad policies spanning the political spectrum. In this compelling investigative narrative, they explain through vivid human stories how the agricultural revolutions that transformed Asia and Latin America stopped short in Africa, and how our sometimes well-intentioned strategies—alternating with ignorance and neglect—have conspired to keep the world’s poorest people hungry and unable to feed themselves.

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