When I was a little boy in the sixties, and first learnt to read newspapers, they were always filled with sad and often horrific stories about hunger in India and Bangladesh. It was never about Africa, because Africa had plenty of food, with countries like Nigeria producing great surpluses of things like groundnuts, cassava and palm oil. By the time we got to the eighties and nineties, however, it was Africa that was suffering from massive food deficits whilst countries like India had food. I always wanted to know what happened, and how we could resolve this problem.
I finally began to get the answers when I joined the board of the Rockefeller Foundation as a trustee in 2003. This is when I got to know about what became known as the “ASIA GREEN REVOLUTION”. A special program in which scientists working at the Rockefeller Foundation led by a man called Dr Norman Borlaug developed new high yielding rice seeds (nothing to do with the controversial GMO, of today). Working together with authorities in India, they dramatically increased the amount of food produced in those countries, until there was no chronic hunger. The work done by Norman Borlaug and his team saved the lives of millions of people, and it was given global recognition through a Nobel Prize for Peace, for Dr Borlaug.
It was also clear from the research I was shown, that African policy makers had ignored agriculture throughout much of the seventies and eighties, even as populations were growing and there was increasing urbanisation.
A new generation of leaders, scientists, and other experts not only at the Rockefeller Foundation, but right around the world, particularly in Africa itself, were now convinced that the time had come for an African Green Revolution. Mr Kofi Annan, the first African Secretary General, called for an African Green Revolution to be launched, which would be African led, and focused on the small holder farmer.
We all realised that it would take more than just getting African farmers to adopt more high yielding seeds. Africa has a much more complex food system than Asia, and there are many more countries; so many other issues would have to be addressed, such as raising billions of dollars.
It would require an incredible partnership of nation states, heads of state, donors, foundations, business organisations, civil society, farmer’s organisations, and farmers themselves. This is how we came to create the organisation called, THE ALLIANCE FOR A GREEN REVOLUTION IN AFRICA (AGRA/ www.AGRA.Org), which was formed in 2006, to spearhead this new push. This is not the only platform that has been created, and there are many people out there doing amazing work, that is all part of this effort.
During this last decade, we have began to witness real strides in increasing food production in Africa, and whilst we still have a long, long way to go, I believe the revolution has began.
It is my hope that over the next few years, I will be able to share with you, now and again, some of this progress, and most importantly, engage some of you to consider a more active role in agriculture; and if you are already in agriculture, to encourage you that help is on the way.
Image Caption: On a field trip, in rural Mali, with the chairman of AGRA, Mr Kofi Annan
Strive Masiyiwa is the founder and Executive Chairman of the Econet Group. He serves on several international boards including Unilever, and the Global Advisory boards of the Council on Foreign Relations and Stanford University. A board member of the Rockefeller Foundation for 15 years, he also serves as Chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). He is a co-founder of the Carbon War Room, Pathways for Prosperity, and the Global Business Coalition on Education. He and his wife, Tsitsi, co-founded the Higherlife Foundation and are signators of the Giving Pledge.View all posts by Strive Masiyiwa