Hideyo Noguchi Africa Prize Memorial Symposium
Thank you for this opportunity to discuss Africa’s future. I have worked at an NGO for many years. In that time, I have been involved in addressing basic human concerns like starvation, poverty and disease, and in nurturing the human resources needed for social development.
I share Dr. Hideyo Noguchi’s belief in a hands-on approach, and spend about one third of each year in developing countries. Today, in discussing poverty and disease, I would like to talk about my experiences in promoting agricultural development.
Many of you do humanitarian work. You research new treatments for diseases such as HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria. You supply drugs and vaccines. Thanks to your efforts, many lives have been saved. Many have been freed from pain and suffering. I share your motivations. I fight disease by helping people whose resistance to infection has been lowered by malnutrition. I help them to secure a food supply. This builds up their strength and makes it harder for them to fall ill.
For 24 years, I have supported agricultural development in sub-Saharan Africa. Here, small farmers make up 70 percent of the population. The aim of my project here is to increase food production. This, I believe, is why I have been invited here today.
This agricultural development project is called Sasakawa Global 2000, or SG2000. It teaches planned agriculture, using small amounts of chemical fertilizer and high-grade seeds. It produces crops rich in nutrition. Local agricultural extension workers sweat alongside farmers to help the system take root. SG2000’s methods are easy to use and crop yields have doubled or tripled. SG2000’s increased yields have greatly improved farmers’ health. With enough to eat, they are becoming more active and output is increasing. Farmers now have a surplus that they can sell at market. With the money they earn, they can buy needed provisions and medicines. They can go to clinics. As farming families grow stronger, the infant mortality rate is also declining.
However, these methods are only being used in a number of select African countries. Food shortages are still one of the continent’s major challenges. Malnourishment blocks the improvement of all facets of health, including disease prevention. Many who are malnourished get diseases such as malaria, diarrhea and TB. These further sap the strength of already-weakened bodies. This is especially so among children. Every year, eight-point-eight million children under five die around the world. Half die from malnutrition.
In 2000, the international community agreed on Millennium Development Goals. The aim is to address the serious problems facing developing countries, problems such as poverty and infectious diseases. Yet in Africa, poverty remains as severe as ever, and it is being said that the Millennium Development Goals are far from being achieved. This is something that all of you are wrestling with, but the problems are so difficult because they are complex and intertwined.
SG2000 has been in operation for 24 years. However, it has not shown as dramatic a success as Asia’s “Green Revolution” and I constantly ask myself if our current approach is appropriate. Furthermore, environmental groups and academics in advanced nations sometimes criticize our use of small amounts of chemical fertilizer, saying that only organic farmings should be used. I welcome such comments and criticism as reviewing one’s activities from different perspectives can often bring a new awareness. But in whatever we do, it is very important that we strive to take a broad viewpoint that includes the people we are trying to reach.
Take the example of chemical fertilizer versus organic farming. If we forego chemical fertilizer, will we still be able to produce enough to eat, given the unpredictable rainfall and insufficient number of irrigation systems?
Secondly, if harvests decline with a switch to organic methods, the area for cultivation must be expanded even to the forest areas, leading to further deforestation. When we turn to look at the farmers of today, they feed their livestock with what little spare produce they have and use the animal dung as fuel. They are exactly what the pro-organic farming people recommend to use instead of chemical fertilizers. Considering carefully all these issues, we have decided with SG2000 to use just the appropriate amounts of chemical fertilizers. Of course, given the environment and the pace of change in Africa, I cannot say this will always be the best way. As Dr. Noguchi believed, self-satisfaction leads to rot.
Before I conclude, let me refer to a significant success I have been a part of. It shows what can be achieved when we cooperate. For years, I have been involved in the fight against leprosy. In the beginning, the problem was so big that we could not see just where we were headed. But then the WHO, governments, pharmaceutical companies, NGOs and the press all came together to eliminate the disease as a public health problem. Each had a role to play.
In 1985, leprosy was a problem in 122 countries, including 53 in Africa. Today, just two countries have yet to pass this milestone. Thanks to the cooperation of Africans on the ground, every single country on this continent has succeeded. Because of this experience, I will never give up on Africa. Dr. Noguchi, too, never gave up. He, also, always attached importance to what was happening on the ground. In that spirit, I would like to continue working together to defeat Africa’s problems. We have a common objective. Let us together push closer to the solutions we all seek.
Thank you. Medasse.