African Green Revolution

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Speech by His Excellency, President Olusegun Obasanjo

President, Federal Republic of Nigeria

At the Eminent Persons Group Meeting for the

Africa Fertilizer Summit

Mar 30, 2006, 17:07

Rockefeller Foundation, New York

“Feeding Africa: A Call for Action to Meet Africa’s Fertilizer Challenge.”


Welcome to this important meeting of the Eminent Persons Group for the Africa Fertilizer Summit. The Summit, to be held in Abuja, Nigeria, from June 9 to 13, 2006, is a critical milestone in Africa’s quest to rapidly turn around its low agricultural productivity and accelerate food security for millions - especially for millions of malnourished children.

The situation in Africa is very serious. It is almost embarrassing that it has taken us this long to come to the realisation that we need to address the issue of fertilizer. It is better late than never, as the saying goes. This is why we have called on you Eminent Persons with vast knowledge, experience, commitment, vision and extensive networks to help in this quest for “Feeding Africa.” Several of you have traveled long distances, despite your heavy schedules. I am honored by your acceptance to the Eminent Persons Group.

It is equally befitting that this meeting is taking place at the Rockefeller Foundation, which is known worldwide for its leadership in agriculture, and for its role in helping to usher in the Green Revolution in Asia. I am pleased that the President of the Rockefeller Foundation, Dr. Judith Rodin, is passionate about the Foundation playing a catalytic role in supporting the aspiration of African leaders to achieve the African Green Revolution. In this regard, the leadership and major financial support of the Rockefeller Foundation towards this Summit is well appreciated. I also would like to acknowledge the financial and technical support from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the International Fertilizer Association (IFA), Arab Fertilizer Association, DFID, Agriterra, SG2000, the World Bank, and FAO for the Summit.

It is interesting that we’re meeting in New York, a marvelous symbol of American industry and prosperity. Much of the prosperity is built on the success of U. S. agriculture. The world calls this place “The Big Apple”. I don’t know why - but it may have something to do with fertilizer…

Fewer than 2 million of the 300 million people living here in the United States are from farm families. The average American farm feeds about 150 Americans for a year, then exports the balance worldwide. Americans spend only about 10 cents of each dollar on food, so they have 90 cents for other things. In Africa, many families spend three fourths of their income on food, leaving little to invest in necessities like education of their children and health care. This in itself is one of the roots of poverty and underdevelopment in Africa: the lack of surplus to invest in production, research, innovation, recreation and savings.

Farmers in sub-Saharan Africa have traditionally cleared land, grown a few crops, then moved on to clear more land, leaving the land fallow to regain its fertility. But population pressure now forces farmers to grow crop after crop, “mining” the soil of nutrients. Africa loses an estimated $4 billion worth of soil nutrients yearly, severely eroding its ability to feed itself. This has led two former World Food Prize Laureates to call this situation a “catastrophe.”

The substantial increases in farm production in Asia - the “Green Revolution” - were mostly through higher yields, made possible through improved seeds and inputs, especially mineral fertilizers. Africa’s far lower increases have been mostly through bringing less fertile soils on marginal land into production.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has called for a “uniquely African” Green Revolution to fight hunger in Africa. Nobel Laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug - a former Rockefeller Foundation scientist - is often called the “father of the Green Revolution in Asia and Latin America.” Dr. Borlaug has called improved seeds the “catalysts that ignited the Green Revolution,” and mineral fertilizer the “fuel” that powered it. We are honored that Dr. Borlaug will provide leadership and inspiration at the Africa Fertilizer Summit.

Without doubt, an African Green Revolution is desperately needed. More than 70% of Africa’s population is directly engaged in agriculture - but our farmers have benefited little for their toil. The simple but brilliant approach to improve crop yields - high - yielding varieties that respond to key inputs, especially fertilizer - still has not found its home in our vast continent of 900 million people. Crop productivity in Africa has mostly remained stagnant over the past four decades, while cereal yields in Asia have risen three-fold, to 3.5 tons per hectare, in the same period. Our malnutrition has worsened, and stability is increasingly difficult to maintain. Increasing the health of our drained soils with both organic and mineral fertilizers will be a key component to achieving the African Green Revolution. Thanks to the work of national and international research centers we already have high-yielding varieties of our key crops. We have cassava varieties that can yield 40 tons per hectare, and maize varieties that are resistant to our pests. >>>>

But these crops yield well only if nutrients are available in the soil to feed them. African soils are impoverished due to poor inherent soil fertility in some places, and to high population pressure that forces overuse of the soil in others.

African farmers apply almost no fertilizer. This locks Africa into a low-level productivity trap. In sub-Saharan Africa, the average fertilizer use is only 8 kilograms per hectare. That is insignificant when compared with parts of Asia and Latin America that have benefited from the Green Revolution. There, fertilizer application averages more than 120 kilograms per hectare. Africa’s low fertilizer use is also environmentally unsustainable. Not only does it lead to increasingly depleted soils, it also contributes to deforestation. With poor productivity of existing farmlands, more and more forests must be cut to feed our growing population.

African must become self-sufficient in food production. Africa’s population growth rate is the highest in the world. By 2050, our population is projected to increase by 1.3 billion people over the base year of 1995. Sustainable development requires efforts to meet the food needs of this rapidly growing population, while conserving our natural resources base for future generations. The only sustainable option is to increase agricultural productivity.

Our farmers will eagerly use fertilizer if they can find access at a price they can afford. They understand the fact that fertilizers will increase their yields and improve their lives. African leaders recognize that with access, affordability, and incentives, farmers will use fertilizers, improve seeds, and agriculture will become the engine for pro-poor growth, just as it has been in Asia, Latin America-and just a few generations before, here in the United States and Europe

But as we increase the intensity of agriculture, we are equally mindful of the need to use fertilizers in a judicious and environmentally sound manner. We must use the right types of fertilizers, ensure proper targeting, improve farmers’ knowledge on efficient use, encourage safe storage and handling, and avoid overuse. We must also pay attention to water issues, especially water harvesting and expansion of irrigation.

We will realize the Millennium Development Goals only if we increase agricultural growth - and we have committed ourselves to 6% annual agricultural growth through the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) of the African Union’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). The target for Nigeria is 10% annual growth rate.

We therefore have a dream, a vision for our African future. But we also know we have the right approach: agriculture must be the engine for growth in Africa. Most of our people depend on agriculture for their living, and agriculture is the most direct way to improve their well being. Agriculture must be productive and competitive.

But to feed our people, we must first feed the soil. The Africa Fertilizer Summit is being called for and convened by the African Union, through NEPAD. We have asked the International Fertilizer Development Center to coordinate and implement this Summit, which will assemble relevant stakeholders including African heads of state, fertilizer producers, private agribusiness firms, farmers’ organizations, NGOs, and development agencies. The goal of this Summit is to build consensus around the key issues constraining fertilizer use in Africa, and to agree on a strategy to move forward.

This will be an action-driven Summit with strong political commitment from African heads of state. The Summit will result in concrete actions to improve the fertility of our soils through more efficient use of both organic and minerals fertilizer. The Summit will also focus on critical issues needed to address the fertilizer challenge that faces Africa: national and regional policy, markets, infrastructure, and financing. We anticipate that Summit outcomes will allow Africa to take giant steps toward achieving growth in agricultural productivity and food security, improved nutrition, and higher incomes for millions of poor African farmers.

I am pleased that leaders of key international organizations are here today including the Africa Development Bank, IFAD, FAO, the World Bank, and the International Fertilizer Association. I am also pleased that we have world renowned experts and persons with long-standing commitment to the growth, development and prosperity of Africa.

We will work together to advance this agenda in Africa. We look forward to your assistance, and those of other international donor agencies, in addressing the Africa fertilizer challenge

This is the hour for Africa. Let’s take this bold step together and expand food security and income opportunities across Africa. I look forward to welcoming you to the Summit in Abuja. Thank you for your support.

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