Speech Delivered by HE John Agyekum Kufuor at the Presentation of the World Food Prize Laureate

African Update – 24/10/11

Date: 13 – 10 – 11

Venue: Capitol Building, Des Moines, Iowa, US

Thank you for those kind words and that welcome.

I want to begin by saying how grateful I am that the Selection Committee considered me worthy of this tremendous honour.

I am all too aware of the roll-call of distinguished former prize winners and their individual contributions to tackling world hunger.

Few people in humanity’s history can match the lives they have saved and transformed. I am incredibly honoured to join this list.

I also feel especially privileged to share the prize in this 25th year, the Silver Jubilee of the Prize, with President Lula. His achievements have highlighted the crucial importance that agriculture plays in tackling poverty and driving development and equity.

Countries all over the world are learning from the successful and environmentally sustainable farming policies followed in Brazil during his Presidency.

We are grateful in Africa that he established an outpost of Brazil’s world-famous agricultural research institute, EMBRAPA, in Ghana during my presidency, to foster collaboration and spread best practice.

But as important was President Lula’s determination to ensure the fruits of agricultural progress provided a platform for a modern, prosperous and just society for all around the globe . Under his leadership, Brazil came of age and became a model for development and a powerful voice for justice in our world.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it was, of course, to highlight the link between food and development and to celebrate the achievements of those whose contribution helped food security that this Prize was set up. Norman Borlaug, having done so much himself to tackle hunger, was determined to encourage others to pick up the baton. Thanks in no small part to the efforts of those you have honoured and the encouragement you have given to those working across this field, the world is seeing many remarkable advances. New crops and new techniques have revolutionised yields. The advances in scientific knowledge would, I believe, delight Dr Borlaug and his friend John Ruan Snr and those who had the vision to set up and support the prize a generation ago. Yet I suspect, too, that this would be coupled with a profound disappointment that so little progress has been made in reducing the numbers of humanity still living in hunger.

Far from its being banished famine continues to destroy hundreds of thousands of lives and livelihoods around the world as we are now seeing in Somalia an other parts of the Horn of Africa.

Indeed, growing populations, rising food prices and the impact of the global financial crisis mean that the numbers going hungry are again rising.

It seems likely that over one billion people – one in seven of the planet’s population – may not have enough food to eat today.

As this audience knows above all, this figure, shameful as it is, is by no means the whole story. For there are many hundreds of millions more who, while not hungry, suffer the damaging impact of consistently poor diets. They may have food on the table but their meals do not supply the nutrition necessary to maintain their health and well-being. Climate change, which the world has failed to find the courage or vision to tackle, is steadily making these problems worse in many parts of the world. So too is our failure to invest in family planning services for which financial support has been virtually halved in recent years. It is, of course, the young and already vulnerable who pay the heaviest personal price for these failures. But the impact – and cost – is a huge brake on progress and prosperity.

If pregnant women do not eat healthily, the physical and mental development of their unborn children are damaged, often irreversibly. Malnutrition stunts our children’s growth, increases their vulnerability to disease, reduces their capacity to learn at school. And, of course, all this feeds through into the wider economy with increased health care costs, poorer productivity and growth.

As the visionary founders of this Prize understood, without meeting the needs of families for food, we can not meet our wider ambitions for our world.

So given the advances in knowledge which this Prize has helped encourage, why is it the world continues to fail to meet this most basic of needs? It is not through any lack of will or effort by those who produce the food.

Farming in many parts of the developing world is an exhausting, back-breaking, unreformed, dawn to dusk effort with all too little reward. It is why it holds so little attraction to the better educated younger generation – one of the main challenges we face in transforming food production over the long-term.

Instead of using their energy and education to improve agriculture, they rather drift to the towns where there are few jobs, and frustrations build.

Yet the Food and Agriculture Organisation still estimates that half of all the hungry people in developing countries are farming families. They live all-too-often on marginal land where their crops are constantly vulnerable to pests, diseases, floods and droughts. For them, the new techniques, crop varieties and pest and disease controls which farmers in the developed world take for granted may well have never been developed. But if you can link these farmers with this new technology and provide them with the support that allows them to make full use of it, the results can be truly remarkable. This was our Government’s strategy in Ghana when I was elected to lead the country in 2000.

Agriculture remained the mainstay of the economy, accounting for 35% of its GDP, 55% of employment and 75% of its export revenue. Indeed, around 60% of our country’s population derives its livelihood from the land. But agriculture was suffering, like the country as a whole, from decades of neglect and lack of investment. Agricultural growth rates had halved while in 2000, export revenues from crops fell by 15% over the previous year. At the beginning of the 21st century, agriculture in Ghana – as is still the case across much of Africa – had changed little from that practised generations ago. Farmers were still scratching a living from the land by hand like their ancestors used to do. Crops were overwhelmingly rain-fed. If the rains failed – something becoming all too frequent with climate change – the crops failed.

Even if the rains come at the time and intensity expected, pests and diseases devastated harvests. There was little use of pesticides, fertilisers or machinery.  The same crops were grown year after year, reducing the fertility of the land. It forces families to move on, slashing and burning, causing severe and lasting damage to our environment. In Ghana, just three decades ago, virgin forests used to cover 40% of the country. Now it is as little as 7%. Our precious environment is being destroyed to provide poor land for farming and timber at low cost for the developed world. Even when crops were harvested, we continued to see major losses. Poor storage and poor transport meant much of the harvest could be wasted.

The failure of agriculture meant millions were going hungry. Declining export revenues were being used up importing food which only helped to drive down prices for own crops. It was often, too, food of such poor quality that could not find a market where it was produced and exported from. This was a picture which was by no means restricted to Ghana. Much of Africa is still suffering from the absence of what my friend Kofi Annan calls Africa’s own Green Revolution. But what’s clear from our experience is that if you give the farmers the knowledge and tools, they will through their own hard-work, repair this damage.

This is the priority my Government agreed on – to put transforming agriculture at the heart of our ambitions to transform our country. Ghana was already the second biggest exporter of cocoa in the world. But we believed that adapting the latest knowledge from universities, agricultural institutions, experts and working farmers –the reservoir of knowledge in this room – we could greatly increase yields.

Thus, cocoa farms were sprayed with pesticides free of charge. Subsidies were provided for fertilisers. Capital investment was made easier and cheaper to obtain. We also made sure farmers were going to be rewarded for their hard work in increasing yields. So we increased from 40 to 70 per cent the share they kept from export prices. The results were startling. Within three years cocoa production per hectare doubled.

National production also increased from 350,000 tons in 2001 to 734,000 tons by 2005 – the highest level in over 100 years of cocoa farming in the country. I am pleased to say production has continued to increase and last year topped one million tonnes – virtually tripling in just a decade. These improvements were not restricted, however, to cocoa, important as the crop is to the country’s future. Strategically deployed extension services became invaluable. 

Using the same techniques, cereal production increased by 37 per cent between 2000 and 2008 – compared to just 1.9 per cent between 1993 and 2000. Increased yields and the land under production also saw major staples such as plantains, yams and cassava increase by 42 per cent over the same period.

 More land was brought into cultivation. Irrigation was enhanced for small and medium sized farmers, particularly in the north of the country. The land under oil palm was doubled.

We encouraged farmers to diversify into new cash crops such as shea nuts, cashew nuts, mangoes and sorghum which brought in extra export revenues for farmers and our country.  

High-quality seeds and planting materials were provided by the Grains and Legumes Development Board which the Government strengthened. 

There was an increase as well in livestock production while the steps we took to modernise fisheries and introduce aquaculture made a major difference to many communities. 

To help drive through and co-ordinate improvements in this area, we set up a Ministry of Fisheries for the first time in the history of the country. We invested, too, in wider rural development. There is little point in increasing yields if crops are not stored safely or transported to market. So we built feeder roads, silos and cold stores for crops and fish.

Rural electrification, upgraded healthcare centres, potable water supply and quality schools were also integral to the policy. 

We implmented the Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education under which all children between the ages of four and 15 attend school at the expense of the state;  a National Health Insurance Scheme, at an affordable premium, including free maternal care for pregnant woment was for the first time intrdouced in Ghana with about 60% rate coverage at the present.

Ladies and gentlemen, none of these advances or techniques were new. And none by themselves would have produced the results we have seen. But by bringing them together in a determined and co-ordinated way, we transformed the production of food within our country. It was a truly integrated approach - with central Government setting the framework and providing support, but working with partners right across the country.

Whatever other problems Ghana faced, it went for a situation where it did not fail to produce enough food to a happy position where food was plentiful. It also made sure that this food got into the mouths of those who would decide our country’s future. An ambitious programme, dubbed the School Feeding Programme, was launched to give kindergarten and primary school pupils one daily hot and nutritious meal made from locally-produced food.

This helped both farmers and our children, and also provided jobs for women in the local community who cook the meals. The provision of good food has not only ensured existing pupils turn up for classes and stay in education.

It also led to many more parents deciding to send their children – and in particular their daughters – to school which will have an important positive impact on Ghana over the long-term. In the first year of implementation, primary school enrolment went up by about 40%. The benefits of education for girls are felt in everything from a fall in teenage pregnancies to healthier families and increased economic growth.

So just as the government hoped, the transformation of agriculture has helped transform our country’s prospects.

The number of people living in poverty fell from 40 per cent in 1999 to 26 per cent in 2008. Those who were under-nourished fell by a similar proportion.

Ghana – seven years ahead of schedule - became the first sub-Saharan African country to meet its MDG target of halving poverty and reducing hunger.  Indeed, National reserves quadrupled with GDP growing by 8.4% by 2008.

Our country, according to multi-lateral organisations, also made the transition to middle-income status. Indeed the national reserves quadrupled with GDP registering a growth rate of 8.4% by 2008. 

It is also a nation now widely seen as a beacon of democracy and stability within our continent where human rights and the rule of law are respected.

Underpinning this was a pursuit of good governance, respect for human rights, abolition of laws inhibiting free speech and freedom of association among others.

I retell this story of achievements not, I hasten to add, to remind this audience why I have received the World Food Prize but to stress the achievements belong largely to the people of Ghana – and in particular its farmers. I wish I could have done more during my time in office.

This audience will also know that many of the programmes I have outlined long ago transformed agriculture in Asia and South America – and are already being followed elsewhere in Africa. Much of this work is being promoted on the continent through the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme under the auspices of NEPAD.

But what has happened in Ghana underlines how vital agriculture is to our hopes for a well-nourished, prosperous and stable world – and helps us identify what is needed to step up progress. With the world’s population passing seven billion this month, we can’t afford to wait any longer. Ladies and Gentlemen, so what are the lessons from Ghana’s experience? What steps do we need to take? First is the importance of political will and leadership at every level. You have to approach these challenges with a strong sense of purpose and ambition.

The machinery of government has to be harnessed to deliver the changes you want to see. It needs governments to put social justice at the heart of their plans but also to have awareness of the opportunities that the market brings. 

Second, it is about building partnerships. Governments can’t achieve this change on their own.

We worked closely with local communities and small, medium and large-scale farmer across Ghana. Donors, nations and Foreign Direct Investers such as Cargill and ADM of the US, Barry Callibou of Switzerland, Compagnie Fruitiers of France and Blue Skies of Britain played a role in Ghana’s success. 

Here, I must mention the Millennium Challenge Corporation of the United States for giving my government $547m which we dedicated entirely to modernizing agriculture. International NGOs such the World Food Programme and others cooperated with us.

The government built an entire network of public-private partnerships. Further, we built partnerships with academic, research institutions and universities around the world. The International Food Policy Research Institute remains such a partner. It is science and technology which, in many cases, hold the key to the progress we want to see.  

This includes a bigger role for nutritionists whose knowledge can help us shape diets to produce healthier families. 

We need to do more to build global academic collaborations and to focus minds on Africa’s distinctive agricultural challenges.

There must, too, be better use of information technology as well to spread best practice. Thirdly, we have to do more to involve the younger generation into agriculture. Policy must ensure this by making rural areas liveable.

The youth have the education needed to harness the new knowledge and techniques and use the machinery to increase yields.

We need their energy and openness to new ideas. By providing local schools, electricfication, good roads and health care; by increasing the rewards for farming, we are keeping more young people on the land. But we need to do more.

Which brings me to my last point. Just as partnership and social justice are crucial at a national level, they are even more important internationally.

We have to do more to harness the forces of globalisation to help us eradicate hunger.  We can’t turn back the tide of globalisation even if we wanted.

But we can make sure trade rules are fair and enforced and don’t favour the already rich over the poor.

We can also ensure agricultural partnerships in the developing world are not simply land grabs but beneficial to all stakeholders.

If we get this right, we will all benefit. Africa has 60% of the unused potential arable land in the world. With the right partnerships, with social justice at the heart of our plans, it can become the breadbasket of the world.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, into retirement, l have set up a Foundation for Leadership, Governance and Development dedicated in part to continue the fight against hunger and poverty in Ghana and Africa.

Its mode of operation is to try to influence policy among governments and also heighten awareness of our youth, especially in tertiary institutions of the development challenges facing our nations.

Distinguished colleagues, there is no more basic need than the food we eat. In this effort, l want to count on the partnership of organizations such as the World Food Programme of which l am already the Global Ambassador against Hunger, the World Bank, the Partnership for Child Development, International Food Policy Research Institute and the Partnership to cut Hunger and Poverty among others.

The honour of the World Food Prize beckons me further to continue contributing service to better the lot of humanity, more so in Africa.  Thank You.

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