Science - July 1, 2004

Rabbinge presents plan to Kofi Annan

Wageningen professor Rudy Rabbinge presented his plan to deal with hunger in Africa to the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, in New York last Friday. The presentation took place at a special meeting at UN Headquarters.

The essence of the plan, published in a weighty report, is that African universities and research institutes should receive more money to develop science and technology directed specifically at Africa. The aim is to increase the productivity of agriculture, and to ensure that Africans have more say in these matters. In contrast to the green revolution in Asia, the report emphasises that technology must be adapted to the diversity found in the more than forty different agricultural systems in Africa.

The report, entitled ‘Realizing the promise and potential of African agriculture’, was two years in the making under the auspices of the InterAcademy Council an international umbrella organisation of academies of science in fifteen countries. Rabbinge was project leader together with M.S. Swaminathan, architect of the green revolution in Asia, and Specioza Kazibwe, former vice-president of Uganda. A panel, largely composed of African experts, worked out the plans that arose from a series of workshops in Africa.

Kofi Annan’s reaction to the plan was positive, according to Rabbinge. Annan says he intends to implement what is written in the plan. The African government leaders who are members of NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa’s Development) are also pleased with the plan. Various donors, including the Bill Gates Foundation, are willing to contribute financially.

However, according to the authors of the report, it is not only donors who need to contribute; the African countries themselves must also double their budgets for agriculture. At the presentation in New York, Rabbinge mentioned that even if current investments in agricultural knowledge in Africa were to be doubled (now about three million dollars a year), the budget would still be less than that of some of the big universities in the West. The stronger research institutes in Africa also need to prevent the relatively few African researchers they have from moving to countries where they are better paid.

All forms of agricultural know-how must be used, including genetic modification of crops. While production-ecology is the central approach adopted in the plan, mention is also made of making markets more accessible for small-scale farmers.|J.T.

The report can be downloaded from www.interacademycouncil.net

Re:act