World Food Prize Foundation honors former UN chief for work in Africa
By JERRY HAGSTROM
For the Capital Press
ACCRA, Ghana -- Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has been awarded the World Food Prize's Norman Borlaug Medallion.
Annan chairs the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, an effort to help small African farmers increase their productivity that is funded by the Seattle-based Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Kenneth Quinn, a former U.S. ambassador who is president of the Des Moines, Iowa-based World Food Prize Foundation, presented the award to Annan on Sept. 2 at the African Green Revolution Forum, which brought government, private business and foundation leaders here to discuss the future of African agriculture.
Quinn also presided over a discussion of the legacy of Borlaug, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 after his seed research led to the Green Revolution in India and is credited with saving millions of lives.
Borlaug founded the World Food Prize.
"Over the past decade, no one has done more than Kofi Annan to bring attention to the critical issue of global food security and nutrition around the world nor in fulfilling Norman Borlaug's dream of bringing the Green Revolution to Africa," Quinn said at the ceremony at a convention center in the capital of this West African country.
As U.N. secretary general, Annan laid out the Millennium Development Goals, a strategy to meet the needs of the world's poorest people by 2015, including eradication of extreme poverty and hunger. Under the MDG, as they are known, the U.N. and its member countries hope by 2015 to halve the number of people who suffered from hunger in 1990.
In 2001, Annan and the United Nations received the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. Annan is not without controversy, however.
The commission headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker that investigated the handling of the U.N. Oil for Food Program that was supposed to use Iraqi oil money to benefit the people of Iraq, criticized him for not cleaning up the corruption in that program, but did not implicate him personally.
Annan, a Ghana native, said it was "a great honor" to receive the award in his native country. He praised Ghana for making "great strides" in helping farmers," but added "We have left farmers to sink or swim without help for too long. After decades of neglect, agriculture has returned to the development agenda. Now it is time to bring together the many players -- from farmers to CEOs -- to achieve rapid, large-scale results that will put an end to hunger and poverty."
With money from the Gates Foundation, AGRA, which is based in Nairobi, Kenya, is backing seed and fertilizer development in Africa and also supporting Ph.D. programs in agricultural research.
In a keynote speech, Annan noted that the challenges facing African farmers are "systemic -- from poor soils and seeds, to lack of finance and markets, and weak policy support. And these systemic challenges are compounded by the reality of climate change, of threats to biodiversity and to the natural resources that support life.
"But if the challenges are systemic, so, too, are the solutions. They involve fundamental changes in government priorities and policies; a strengthening of food value chains; development of Africa's private sector; the creation of vibrant new partnerships; and an alignment of international aid with Africa's priorities.
"All of this must empower Africa's smallholder farmers, the majority of whom are women," he said. "They are the people who grow our food. Transformative change will enable them to leave behind subsistence farming, to run their farms as businesses, and to market their surpluses."