Sunday, October 16, 2011

The world descends on quiet Des Moines to discuss global food security

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

Des Moines is the capital of Iowa State, mid-west of the US. It is a quiet, beautiful town with a population of about 400,000.

But this quiet town is awake now, as the whole world is literally here to discuss how to secure the world’s future food production.

Global food prices are rising, and there is severe hunger and drought in the Horn of Africa. The situation in East Africa has attracted global attention, even though a little too late, efforts are being made to address the issue.

In Des Moines, pronounced ‘De Moine’, about 29 journalists from around the world have been nominated by the US Department of State Foreign Press Centre for the ‘Foreign Journalist Tour: Food Security’ reporting programme.

The World Food Prize is also organising the Norman E. Borlaug International Symposium during which the Laureate Award Ceremony would be held. Ghana’s former President John Kufuor and Brazil’s Lula da Silva will be jointly honoured for their efforts to end hunger in their countries, while they were presidents .

Kufuor is being honoured for the prudent policies initiated by his government towards food sufficiency.

“His administration helped to initiate or continue improvements in farming, nutrition, education, healthcare, and infrastructure, leading to significant positive changes in Ghana during the first decade of the new millennium.

“Today, Ghana is regarded as one of the most successful countries in sub-Saharan Africa. It recently attained middle-income status and will likely achieve the first Millennium Development Goal of cutting poverty in half before the target year of 2015,” a press statement from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) said in June.

“Under President Kufour’s leadership, Ghana became the first sub-Saharan African country to cut in half the proportion of its people who suffer from hunger, and the proportion of people living on less than a dollar per day, on course to achieve UN Millenium Development Goal 1 before the 2015 deadline.

“Continuing Ghana’s tradition of stability, President Kufour prioritised national agricultural policies: Ghana saw a reduction in its poverty rate from 51.7 percent in 1991 to 26.5 percent in 2008, and hunger was reduced from 34 percent in 1990 down to 9 percent in 2004,” it said.

IFPRI also acknowledged that, “President Kufour’s economic reforms, including the Food and Agriculture Sector Development Policy, provided incentives and strengthened public investments in the agricultural and food sector — the backbone of Ghana’s economy — which grew at a rate of 5.5 percent between 2003 and 2008,” adding that”Growth in the agricultural sector drove expansion in the national economy, with GDP quadrupling to 8.4 percent by 2008.”

“Under President Kufour, the Agricultural Extension Service was reactivated and special attention paid to educating farmers on best practices. As a result, Ghana’s cocoa production doubled between 2002 and 2005, and food crops such as maize, cassava, yams and plantains increased significantly, as did livestock production,” it adds.

The organisers were also impressed with Kufuor’s essay published by IFPRI. The essay was titled ‘Ghana’s Transformation’, in which Ghana’s former President gives a first-person account of his years as president, describing some of his administration’s most successful projects, especially those related to agriculture.

In the essay, President Kufour, who is currently a Global Ambassador against Hunger for the United Nations World Food Programme says, “Food is the most basic of needs, it decides not just the health of individuals but also the health of communities.”

Kufuor who describes food security as the catalyst for improving an economy and instituting democracy, served two terms as President of the Republic of Ghana from 2001 to 2008.

Achievements by this year’s winners also demonstrate that committed leadership combined with evidence-based policies can eliminate hunger and reduce poverty, says IFPRI.

On Brazil’s former president as joint winner, the World Food Prize Foundation said “President Lula da Silva made reducing poverty and hunger a top priority when he assumed the presidency of Brazil in 2003.

“The country’s Zero Hunger network of programmes represents one of the world’s leading efforts to decrease hunger and improve nutrition, providing greater access to food and education, increasing rural incomes, and empowering the poor. Under his leadership, Brazil cut hunger in half, exceeding the first Millennium Development Goal,” it adds.

Chicago’s O’hare International Airport was full on a sunny day Monday October 10, 2011 as larger than normal number of airlines landed with passengers on transit to Iowa. As our flight took off, it was the fourth plane in line taking off from the tarmac at the same time, and the waiting area was crowded leaving most Chicagoans wondering what is attracting such large numbers of visitors to the sleepy Mid-West town of Des Moines.

On transit in Chicago, I had the pleasant and rare opportunity of running into Sir Dawda Jawara, the former President of The Gambia. Until that great opportunity came, the closest I had come to him was what I had read about him in primary school. I didn’t miss a photo opportunity with him!

The town is so small that people walking by you on the street will stop and say hello!

But before I arrived in Des Moines, I already had links with the town that I have suddenly fallen in love with. When I told my friend Joyce Maxwell who lives in Massachusetts that I was coming to Des Moines, she told me her mother-in-law was born there. And then there is Ghanaian doctoral candidate at the Iowa Universtiy, Etse Sikanku, who has been looking forward to meeting with me whenever he came to Ghana, but now we will have the chance of meeting in Des Moines.

Traffic moves very fast on the roads, and I am yet to hear a car honk!

As I understand, it is also the heart of agriculture and food production in America. I have already seen the signs of some agribusiness institutions already.

As the events continue and come to a climax by October 15, 2011, quiet sleepy Des Moines would have spent long hours being awake, that it would probably sleep for a long time trying to catch up on lost sleep.

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