Before his death in Geneva on Saturday, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was one of the greatest supporters of African farmers at the global stage.
Annan, who hailed from Ghana, was always urging governments and overseas donors to support small-scale farmers to enable Africa overcome its crippling food crisis.
Annan always said it was critical that governments and the international community to make fertiliser, farm equipment and other key inputs available to the poorest of Africa’s farmers.
“We’ve seen situations where the farmers need to plant, where food is needed, but because they cannot afford fertilisers they are planting a quarter or half (of what they would),” he once said a meeting in South Africa.
After he retired from the United Nations, Annan became the first chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, a group backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that aims to reverse Africa’s declining food production.
During his tenure at the United Nations, Annan, a Ghanian national, often drew attention to the link between Africa’s failing agriculture systems and its persistent hunger and poverty.
“It is hard to understand how the continent, with 60 per cent of the world’s uncultivated arable land, still suffers from under and mal-nutrition and spends $35 billion every year importing food,” he once wrote.
One of the issues that he wanted addressed are the barriers preventing Africa from realising its potential to not just feed itself but begin exporting to the rest of the world.
“To create an environment conducive to agricultural productivity growth, governments need to put into place institutions and policies that are far-sighted, can be sustained beyond the tenure of particular elected officials, and promote long-term benefit over short-term gain,” he saFourth, increase access to financial services for farmers and growing agri-businesses. Enabling a farmer to acquire good seeds and use soil fertility-enhancing measures is the first step out of poverty.
He believed that successful farmers are those who find viable solutions to dealing with climate change and that regional barriers should be removed.
He once lamented that if a farmer cannot sell his produce in the next country, it is much more difficult to develop a profitable business.
“Again, we must mobilise our young people and empower the women. When a continent has both the highest rate of youth unemployment and an agricultural sector desperately in need of more labour, something is amiss.”