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U.N.'S Annan urges 'Green Revolution' in Africa, but mum on issue of biotech crops

(Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- ROME (Reuters) - United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan urged the international community Wednesday to help Africa stage an agricultural revolution to drag the continent out of poverty.

He also said new farming techniques were needed to counter the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS on farm workers and on food production in Africa.

Annan told a U.N. conference the only way to achieve a goal of halving hunger and poverty by 2015 was to reach out to rural communities where three-quarters of the world's poorest people live.

``The target of halving the number of people living in extreme poverty... will require us to work toward a green revolution in Africa's agricultural sector, so that Africa may move toward the self-sufficiency that we have seen achieved elsewhere,'' Annan said in a keynote speech.

A so-called ``green revolution'' using innovative farm technologies boosted food supplies in Asia in the 1960s and 1970s, reducing poverty levels.

Annan did not give details of how a green revolution would be achieved and he did not specifically mention the controversial question of genetically-modified crops.

Some African countries facing food shortages, including Zambia, are so wary of gene-altered crops that they have refused such food aid or have insisted that it be milled to prevent planting.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization declined comment on Annan's remarks. FAO said Tuesday that biotechnology research is failing to help the poor and needs to focus on boosting food supplies and quality.

Rodney Cooke, a senior official with the U.N. International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), told Reuters that a ``green revolution'' in Africa could mean increased use of chemical fertilizers and high-yielding crop varieties that can survive in harsh terrains that are subject to recurrent drought.

Cooke, a biochemist with expertise in farming systems and foods, said biotechnology could help boost food production in Africa in the longer term, by reducing reliance on costly chemicals that the poorest farmers cannot afford, as long as the varieties used had received regulatory approval.

``The challenge in Africa is to achieve increased agricultural productivity in harsh or risk-prone environments,'' he said, referring to the need for crop varieties that can cope with less rainfall, poorer soils and a high level of pest attacks.

``That is a very considerable challenge to plant breeders.''


Annan told the governing council of IFAD, one of three Rome-based U.N. food agencies, that new farming techniques were vital in the war on HIV/AIDS, which has devastated farming communities in sub-Saharan Africa.

``Because of AIDS, farming skills are being lost, agricultural development efforts are declining, rural livelihoods are disintegrating,'' Annan said.

He said household earnings were shrinking while the cost of caring for the ill was rising exponentially.

``We must combine food assistance and new approaches to farming with treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS,'' Annan said. ``It means developing new agricultural techniques, appropriate to a depleted workforce.''

Cooke said less labor-intensive farm techniques would include use of seeds that require less tillage, and pest-resistant varieties.

Annan called for a reversal of the recent trend for declining official aid to rural development and agriculture, and urged investments and policies that increase rural productivity.

IFAD finances small-scale, long-term farm projects in poor areas around the world, using donations from its 162 member states as well as income from its investments and loans.