ROME, ITALY — Africa has the land and the people to develop an agricultural system that can provide enough surplus to ensure global food security in decades to come, Kofi Annan, chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), said on Feb. 19 at the annual meeting of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

Annan, a former United Nations Secretary-General, said that good progress toward this goal is already being made, thanks to “creative thinking, effective partnerships, leadership from governments and the efforts of smallholder farmers” and that continued efforts to target resources will “enable Africa to create a surplus for global export.” He addressed governors from IFAD’s 167 Member States gathered here at the Fund’s Rome headquarters for its 34th Governing Council.

In his remarks, Annan recalled a number of factors that have led to a decline in the agricultural sector in Africa and an increase in the number of poor rural people. These include the continent’s exclusion from advances in farming technologies, poor management of resources, weak economic and infrastructure links, an unbalanced global trade regime and a dramatic decline in aid from overseas in the past three decades.

“Lack of accessible credit and other financial services have also been a huge brake on agricultural development. But all that is beginning to change thanks to innovative efforts to work with banks to share risk and boost lending for agriculture,” he said. Annan noted that partnerships involving IFAD and AGRA have leveraged US$160 million in affordable loans to agriculture from commercial banks in Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania.

Annan urged IFAD Governing Council delegates to support policies and investments for Africa that support the expansion of staple food crops, a coherent approach to investment across the agricultural value chain and, importantly, a focus on smallholder farmers, whom he called “the mainstay of African agriculture.”

Speaking at the opening session of IFAD’s Governing Council was Luigi Casero, Under-Secretary of State in the Ministry of Economy and Finance of the Italian Republic. “Supporting smallholder farmers is the most effective way we have to tackle the complex problem of eradicating poverty and creating sustainable growth,” he said.

In his address to the Governing Council, IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze sounded a note of optimism on the potential of emerging agricultural markets and value chains, which he said “offer opportunities for poor rural people to generate more income than ever before, but only if they are able to offset the high entry costs.”

He also said, “The first step is recognizing that farming of any scale is an economic activity, a business, and businesses need clear links along the value chain — from production to processing, marketing and consumption.”