Farmers in Africa could double food output in five to 10 years if rich countries partner them in a "Green Revolution" for a long-term solution to the continent's food crisis, former UN chief Kofi Annan said on Friday.
Speaking in a telephone conference call from Austria, the former UN secretary-general urged developed nations to give generously to first stave off the risk of hunger in Africa caused by soaring global food prices. They should then commit to help African farmers attain long-term food security, he said.
Annan (pictured above), who led a meeting of agriculture experts in Salzburg, said major funding in the short, medium and long term was required to offset the impact on the world's poorest continent of the sharp price hikes for essential food and fuel. These have triggered riots and protests in a string of African countries.
"No question is more important for the future of our continent ... the most urgent act is to get food to the people who desperately need it now," said Annan, who is from Ghana.
But he added humanitarian aid could only be the first step of a longer-term strategy which should seek "to enable African farmers to dramatically increase their output so that Africa can feed itself and not be dependent on food aid".
Annan, who ended his tenure as UN chief in 2006, welcomed a proposal made on Thursday by US President George W Bush for $770 million (Dh2.83 billion) in new US food aid donations and other measures to tackle the global food crisis.
"I very much hope that governments here in Europe will follow suit," he said.
Annan made his appeal as chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), an organisation which seeks a sustained partnership between donors, governments, NGOs and farmers in Africa to make the continent self-sufficient in food.
"I believe that if we all take it seriously and work in a sustained manner ... we should be able in my judgment to double or triple food production by the African farmers in a period of five to 10 years," he said in the conference call.
"CAN'T BUILD PEACE ON EMPTY STOMACH"
With the global food crisis threatening to spread social unrest, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) appealed to donors in late March to help it offset a $500 million (Dh1.84 billion) hike in aid costs to maintain its already scheduled deliveries for this year.
The Rome-based WFP, which aims to feed 73 million people in 80 countries in 2008, later raised this funding requirement to $755 million (Dh2.78 billion). It says the cost of feeding the world's hungry has jumped nearly 55 per cent since it set its 2008 budget last year.
Experts point to converging factors behind the price rises, including rising food consumption in emerging economies like India and China and adverse weather. The growing use of food crops to make biofuels like ethanol is also seen as a driver.
Annan said funding the immediate humanitarian need caused by the food crisis was not enough in itself. "No one should think that once that is done they can sit back and relax," he said.
Annan's AGRA organisation is proposing a sustained, multi-faceted offensive to boost farming in Africa, through funding, technology transfers, cooperation with governments and civil society groups and dialogue with ordinary farmers.
"Large amounts of funding will be needed for Africa in agricultural research and extension, seed systems production, market development, building infrastructure, roads and storage facilities," said AGRA's Vice President Akinwumi Adesina.
"The Green Revolution will not happen on the cheap, you cannot do it on a shoestring budget," he added.
Adesina urged quick international action to prevent the food price crisis causing widespread hunger and social turmoil.
"You can't build peace on an empty stomach," he said. (Reuters)