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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Norman Borlaug dies at 95

Norman Borlaug, widely described as the father of the broad agricultural movement called the Green Revolution, has died at 95. He grew up in Iowa in the dust bowl years of the 1930’s.

Dr. Borlaug’s advances in plant breeding led to spectacular success in increasing food production in Latin America and Asia and brought him international acclaim. In 1970, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Dr. Borlaug’s remarks on the occasion of the acceptance of the Nobel Prize struck me as truly profound and visionary.

Here are excerpts of his acceptance speech. “I am acutely conscious of the fact that I am but one member of that vast army and so I want to share not only the present honour but also the future obligations with all my companions in arms, for the Green Revolution has not yet been won….. It is true that the tide of the battle against hunger has changed for the better during the past three years. But tides have a way of flowing and then ebbing again. We may be at high tide now, but ebb tide could soon set in if we become complacent and relax our efforts…. There can be no permanent progress in the battle against hunger until the agencies that fight for increased food production and those that fight for population control unite in a common effort. Fighting alone, they may win temporary skirmishes, but united they can win a decisive and lasting victory to provide food and other amenities of a progressive civilization for the benefit of all mankind”.

In his Nobel lecture he had this to say of the then nascent CGIAR system. “The international centres were developed to supplement national agricultural research, production, and training programs, not to replace them. The centres are but one link in the worldwide network of organizations attacking basic food-crop production problems on a worldwide, regional, national, and local level. The backbone of this network is now and must continue to be the national programs. These must be given greater financial support and strengthened staff-wise to meet the challenge of rapidly expanding food needs for the future”.

I had the honour of meeting him in his capacity as President of Sasakawa Africa Association (SSA). Dr. Borlaug will be remembered in Africa for his leadership of SAA and for his pioneering thoughts on the possibility of an African Green Revolution.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

An East African Federation: Big dream or an inspired vison?

What exactly is East Africa in the 21st century? Between 1967 and 1977 the East African Community comprised Kenya Uganda and Tanzania. Since the collapse of the East African Community, these three countries have walked divergent paths.

Under Kenyatta, Moi and Kibaki, Kenya took a boisterous and dynamic path. Kenya’s path has generated staggering social inequality that has been fired up by corruption, and ethnic strife and impunity. Today Kenya is the most unstable of the three countries. Ugandans lived through a brutal and bloody dictatorship under General Amin. Today Uganda is suffocating under the arrogant, unending presidency of Yoweri Museveni. Tanzania is just emerging from the economic disaster wrought by Nyerere’s socialist experiments.

In 1999, Kenya Uganda and Tanzania resuscitated the East African Community. In 2007, Rwanda and Burundi formally joined an ambitious vision a political conglomerate. But who really wants political federation? Tanzania is not excited, fearing that its economy will be overrun by Kenya and Uganda. Museveni hopes to end his political cap his political career as the first president of the federation. But Museveni is now more concerned about how he will move Uganda’s oil to China. Kenya has expansionist ambitions for its fledgling service sector as hub and gateway to an expanded East Africa economic region that will certainly include Eastern Congo and an independent Southern Sudan.

Paul Kagame hopes that an East Africa federation might open up markets and export corridors for Congo’s vast wealth through Rwanda. China, the most voracious external actor is hungry for Congo’s timber and mineral resources shipped via East Africa, hopefully through the port of Lamu. I am sure India is looking. But what is in the federation for Burundi?

But there is palpable skepticism. The idea of a federation might just fizzle out. It is hard to see how a federation will gel when a local trader cannot move onions across the border at Namanga. Raila’s marauding followers who love to vent on the railway really get on Museveni’s nerves. Then there is the needles red tape and epileptic negotiation processes in Arusha.

I am amenable to surprise. Maybe we pull this off.Who knows?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Closing the Science Gaps on What is Happening to the World's Oceans and Seas

UN Experts' Report to Governments Charts Ways Forward

New York/Nairobi/Paris, 31 August 2009 - The world's oceans and seas-covering 70 per cent of the planet - may soon be subject to the same kind of systematic scientific scrutiny as the globe's land surface.

Governments are meeting today to consider a series of options and recommendations on establishing just such a monitoring process. It is aimed at plugging significant and serious knowledge gaps that are undermining humanity's ability to better manage a wealth of natural and nature-based marine resources.

If governments give the process the green light, the first globally integrated oceans assessment could be delivered under the auspices of the United Nations by 2014.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: "The marine environment is facing a multiplicity of challenges. Some, such as the decline in fish stocks and land-based sources of pollution are persistent ones. Others, from the emergence of 'dead zones' and the impacts of climate change including acidification are rapidly emerging ones. A systematic assessment process is long overdue. This meeting in New York represents a tremendous opportunity for governments to put the best marine science at their service in order to make the best management choices over the coming years and decades."

"Significantly, a very real concern has been acknowledged today with the launch of the Assessment of Assessments report - the first ever comprehensive overview of the marine assessment landscape - which also considers socio-economic factors. The report is a clear signal that the world needs a more inclusive approach on its oceans and resources. It provides a framework and options for how this can be done," said Mr. Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.


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