Africa is rising to meet global food challenges



By Tim Breen

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc. 

WASHINGTON, May 17 - The 2010 winner of the 2011 Borlaug CAST Communication Award award, Nigeria-born Akin Adesina, told a World Bank crowd Tuesday that “Africa is rising”-forming “bread baskets” where combinations of soil quality, financing, know-how and market access can mean leaps and bounds in agricultural productivity. With much more land mass but two-thirds the population of India, Africa can change from a “food-deficit continent” to a “food-surplus region,” Adesina said. 

Vice president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, Adesina said that farmers and policy makers in Asia “got the technology right and the policies right.” There, investment in high-yield cereals has yielded a healthier and growing population.  

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“In Africa you can find Fanta, soda almost anywhere, but not seed or fertilizer,” Adesina said. African nations, with help from the United States and international organizations, should support banks and small landholders who are already making strides in rice, cassava, banana, sorghum and other production in portions of Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda, Adesina said. 

“Excess liquidity” in the world's banks should be directed to “better organized, better functioning agricultural value chains,” he said. Helpful U.S. policies would include “turning around the long-term decline in general agricultural development assistance,” and already there appears some movement in the Senate, he said. The United States should further open its markets to value-added agricultural products from Africa. The country should continue more targeted support as well, such as through the U.S. Agency for International Development, which helped put him through Purdue University, Adesina said.  

The event was held in part to honor Catherine Bertini, a longtime public servant best known for highlighting the pivotal role of women in the world's food chain and helping millions of victims of natural disasters. She will receive the 2011 Borlaug CAST Communication Award in October, the group announced. In 2003 she was awarded the World Food Prize, the foremost international award recognizing individuals for improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.  

“Catherine Bertini continues the tradition of communicating the importance of science and agriculture in a world dependent on safe, affordable food. As she said, we must all ‘support the needs of poor farmers throughout the developing world,'” CAST and the CropLife Foundation, co-sponsors of the award, said in a joint statement.  

Currently a professor of public administration at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Bertini was under secretary general for management at the United Nations in 2003-2005, and executive director of the U.N. World Food Program, the world's largest international humanitarian aid agency, in 1992-2002.  

Before her U.N. service, Bertini was assistant secretary for food and consumer services at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where she ran $33 billion worth of domestic food assistance programs. She also served in the Department of Health and Human Services and Illinois Human Rights Commission.  

Bertini is slated to receive the bronze trophy October 12 as part of the World Food Prize Symposium in Des Moines, Iowa. The award is named in part for Norman Borlaug, the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize winner credited as the father of the “Green Revolution” in high-yield crop varieties. 

Speaking May 17 at the World Bank, CAST and CropLife officials said the award trumpets the importance of communicating the role of science and technology in supporting agriculture. “Communications is an area where we have struggled mightily,” said one official. “We have been powerless to communicate the importance of agriculture to poverty reduction.” 

By 2050 the world will need to produce 70 percent more food to feed 9 billion people-on very little additional land, according to CAST. The key is technology, officials agreed.

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