‘Given the gains already made, a global push can consign hunger to history’

For the first time in human history, the end of hunger is well within our reach. Although courageous and passionate individuals have been working to end this scourge for decades, a recent confluence of political will, public-private partnerships and funding has made this ambition possible.

We have, of course, a long way to go. Almost 800-million men, women and children will not have enough food to eat today. But the achievement of halving the proportion of malnourished people since 1990 has shown us just what can be achieved.

Look, for example, at Africa. Already 12 years ago, when I was United Nations secretary general, I called for a “uniquely African Green Revolution” to transform agriculture and the life chances of hundreds of millions of people on the continent. Progress has been remarkable.

For over a decade, African countries have put a much greater emphasis on investment in agriculture and supporting the continent’s farmers. The Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme, launched by African leaders in 2003 and reiterated in the Malabo Declaration of June 2014, provides a clear framework to accelerate investment and co-ordinate countries’ efforts.

International donors have thrown their weight behind these national efforts. From a surge in donor investment stemming from the 2009 G8 Summit in L’Aquila, Italy, to the agreement by the global community to prioritise hunger and malnutrition in last year’s sustainable development goals, the tide is turning.

With the help of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa was created in 2006. In just a short period of time, it has become a pre-eminent leader in transforming Africa’s agriculture and food systems. Thanks to the partnerships it has formed, the research and development it has supported, and the initiatives on the ground it has launched, smallholder farmers have obtained access to better seeds, sustainable agricultural techniques and financing, and thousands of agribusinesses have been created and expanded.

The past few weeks have given more reason to celebrate. In a rare show of bipartisan co-operation, the United States Congress in July passed the Global Food Security Act. This significant legislation reaffirms the US’s commitment to ending global hunger, poverty and child malnutrition through President Barack Obama’s Feed the Future Initiative by supporting developing countries to improve their agriculture and broader food systems. It is hoped that the passing of the Act will encourage other traditional donor countries to take similar actions.

This latest good news comes as African heads of state, international donors and hunger fighters from around the world gather in Nairobi, Kenya, for the African Green Revolution Forum this week. It is an opportunity not only to celebrate collective progress but also to commit ourselves to step up the battle against hunger and malnutrition.

We must seize on this critical moment and build on the incredible progress that’s been made in recent years. We all gain if we get this right. Increasing food security not only lifts the shadow of hunger from hundreds of millions of our fellow human being, it also builds up economies and trade, and minimises the risk of political instability.

I believe there are four main keys to tipping the scales and sentencing global hunger to history. The first is the continued political will to place and keep this issue high on domestic and international agendas, for no country can be strong when its people are weakened by hunger. The role of civil society in constantly encouraging governments to make agriculture a priority is vital here as well.

Second is partnerships, for no one individual, group or government can take on this monumental challenge alone. We have seen over the past few years just how quick and significant progress can be when we have the vision to work together.

Third, we must retain and strengthen country ownership. Developing countries – which suffer disproportionately from food insecurity – must take the lead in defining their own path to prosperity.

Finally, the critical importance of financing must be recognised. The impressive progress so far will not be sustained and accelerated without new investment from both the private sector and developing countries themselves, in addition to traditional donors.

Developing country leaders, private sector companies, donors, nongovernmental organisations and others now have the chance to achieve something incredible in our lifetimes. This week and into the future, I challenge my colleagues working in global development, especially heads of state and private sector leaders, to prioritise this issue. Working together – across sectors and disciplines – we can make hunger history.

Kofi Annan is the chair of the Kofi Annan Foundation

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