Former U.N. Secretary-General, Gates Foundation CEO, Ethiopian Official Address World Food Prize Conference

In a speech at the World Food Prize conference on Thursday, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan discussed several topics related to food security and said that discrimination against women is limiting agricultural development in Africa, the Des Moines Register reports.

“We cannot forget that the women who produce most of Africa’s food are particularly disadvantaged economically and socially,” said Annan, who chairs the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. Women “are not considered heads of households, rarely have land title rights and their interests are all too often overlooked by traditional financial institutions,” he said, noting that African banks put only about three percent of their loans into agriculture. “We have to put this right,” Annan said. “Agriculture is a business. It must be financed like one” (Piller, 10/15).

He said the private sector could also play a significant role in creating opportunities to expand and improve agriculture in Africa, the Associated Press/Chicago Tribune reports. “Like any successful revolution, the goal must be permanent reform,” he said.

Annan also said the world needs to do more to help small farmers, according to the news service. “Without coordinated and urgent action, the most basic goal of reducing poverty and world hunger is at risk of not being met by 2015 in many countries,” he said. “Closing this gap is not just a moral imperative, it also lies at the core of a more secure and equitable world.”

Annan “said many of the science-based developments that helped transform food production in Asia have bypassed Africa” and highlighted recent progress, noting the adoption of the Comprehensive Africa-Agriculture Development Program seven years ago, which asks governments to invest at least 10 percent of their budgets in farming, the AP reports (Crumb, 10/14).

Annan congratulated this year’s World Food Prize winners, Jo Luck of Heifer International and David Beckmann of Bread for the World, Radio Iowa reports (Curtis, 10/14). “Beckmann used his acceptance speech to make an impassioned appeal to [U.S.] voters to evaluate candidates’ potential impact on anti-hunger programs. … The ceremony included a taped message from former President Bill Clinton, for whom Luck once worked when he was governor of Arkansas,” the Des Moines Register notes (Brasher, 10/15). On the sidelines of the conference Annan discussed the use of genetically modified crops, Dow Jones reports. “What is important is that these governments develop the (expertise) that is necessary to determine whether [genetic modification] poses problems for health,” he said (Berry, 10/14).

Also on Thursday, Jeff Raikes, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, highlighted the need for funding the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program, which was launched in April and receives support from the Gates Foundation and several governments, including the U.S., the Seattle Times’ “Business of Giving” blog reports.

“The initial commitments were supposed to encourage more funding from governments and the private sector. Raikes said that hasn’t happened. While 21 countries have made requests for funds totaling nearly $1 billion, only about $130 million in pledges has come in, he said,” the blog reports (Heim, 10/14). “Countries are interested in this work, there are proven ways to do it well, but there’s a real danger that it won’t get done,” he said, according to a Gates Foundation press release (10/14).

“We need to remain vigilant in these tough economic times to make sure that donors follow through on their pledges. Budget pressures are threatening the progress we’ve been making,” he said, according to Reuters (Stebbins, 10/14). “It’s also unlikely that the G20 countries that pledged $22 billion in London last year as part of a global food security initiative will meet those commitments, he said,” according to the “Business of Giving” (10/14).

Raikes said more investments in seeds and technology are needed to address volatile weather patterns and climate change that pose a threat to the livelihoods of small farmers and also highlighted how the foundation’s work aims to combat these concerns, Reuters adds. “Most of our grants support conventional breeding. But in certain instances we include biotechnology approaches because we believe they can help farmers confront drought, flooding, disease, or pests more effectively than conventional breeding alone,” he said.

He also added that “the global demand for water is on pace to double in just 50 years. Without drastic changes, demand is going to outstrip supply in the areas where the poorest farmers live” (10/14).

Eleni Gabre-Madhin, the chief executive officer of the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange, also spoke at the conference and said developing countries will need stronger connections to world markets in order to reduce hunger and maintain prices, Bloomberg Businessweek reports.

“Trading floors in developing nations give farmers more-accurate pricing information and encourage construction of the storage facilities, roads and telephone networks needed to foster agriculture, Gabre-Madhin said … Farmers in Ethiopia, with experience in commodity trading, ‘think global and multinational, rather than thinking local,’ she said. ‘That means they’re able to make better decisions on when to sell’ and pay closer attention to crop quality, she said” (Bjerga, 10/14).

“Later Thursday, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and the agriculture ministers from Afghanistan and Pakistan discussed collaborative efforts to work toward food security in the two nations, promote trade agreements between the countries and improve availability of water for irrigation,” the AP/Chicago Tribune writes (10/14).

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