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Kofi Annan: the peacemaker and his green revolution

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Kofi Annan"”fresh from bringing peace to Kenya and as Columbia University president Lee Bollinger introduced him possibly the "true first global citizen""”spoke about the crisis facing not just that East African country but all of sub-Saharan Africa. That crisis has roots in climate change"”"it acts as a threat multiplier in regions which are already fragile""”but also in decades if not centuries of poverty. Unlike much of Asia, where the Green Revolution helped raise the incomes of the rural poor, spurring development, most of Africa has seen no similar effort in recent decades and no similar rise. "The world's poorest are getting poorer." Ricardo Stuckert/Agencia Brasil Kofi aims to change that, taking a job as head of Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) after stepping down as U.N. Secretary General. The model for their new effort: Malawi. "Malawians have a saying: hunger is a beast," he notes. "An estimated 200 million people in Africa, one third of the continent's population, wrestle daily with that beast." But not Malawi. Over the past two years the country has gone from a maize importer to exporter. Government reforms spurred the success: market reforms, new roads, fertilizer subsidies. That kind of success is what AGRA and Annan hope to replicate continent-wide, reversing the decades-long trend of population growth outstripping food production. "Agricultural growth does four times more for the incomes of the extreme poor than growth in other sectors," Annan notes, citing a recent World Bank report. Of course, it has been argued that the Green Revolution in Asia was not an unalloyed boon, leading to environmental degradation and agricultural centralization in some cases, but it is clear that hunger is still a scourge in Africa and anything that provides a more secure food supply"”especially in light of a more unpredictable, unstable climate, such as the rains on which must of African agriculture relies"”would be good. The Green Revolution in Asia certainly did that. The answer also lies in more globalization, not less, Annan argues, such as opening world markets to African crops. African farmers are not benefiting from global grain prices that have jumped by more than 40 percent, driven by crop failures in Australia and rising oil prices, which have increased the cost of fertilizer and tractors. In fact, many of them are still starving. There will still be a need for direct aid as developing countries struggle to adapt to a warming world. "Developing countries bear the greatest responsibility for climate change but the least developed suffer the impacts the most," Annan observes. "The state of the planet is a reason for deep concern. It can also be a reason for great hope." If an African agricultural transformation helps provide secure food supplies to the world's starving while "preserving the natural resource base" (i.e. not polluting or overwhelming the natural environment), that truly would be a "green revolution," in all senses of the word.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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