Celebration of the 25th Anniversary of Sasakawa Global 2000

Bamako, Mali

As a founding member of SAA – the Sasakawa Africa Association – I would like to begin by sincerely thanking President Amadou Toumani Touré, President Obasanjo, the Ministers of Agriculture and government representatives and guests who have gathered here today to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the SG2000.

We congratulate President Touré’s for Mali’s far-sighted agricultural policies, and express our gratitude for the official support and cooperation given to our project. The Malian vision and supporting actions have enabled us to help achieve significant agricultural impact, especially in rice, millet and maize production. I am certain that the farmers are deeply gratified and full of expectation and hope for a brighter future.

I also wish to take this opportunity to express our gratitude to the many people who have been involved in our project over the past two and a half decades. First, to the agricultural scientists who have offered their abundant advice and worked tirelessly to improve smallholder agriculture; second, to the extension workers, who have worked side-by-side with farmers and strived, day- after-day, to help them improve their lives; third, to the directors and staff of SAA, who have continuously encouraged the extension workers and strived together to attain a brighter future for Africa; and last but not least, I would like to thank our new donors who have joined recently. They have shown that they believe in our project and their investments will add to our impact.

In 1984, an unprecedented famine was devastating East Africa. Encountering children who’ve become so weakened that they could hardly keep their eyes open, it was clear at the time that immediate food aid was needed for the people of Africa and The Nippon Foundation sent emergency food aid in response.

However, seeing that emergency aid is effective in satisfying hunger momentarily, but not the answer to fundamentally solving the problems that Africa faced, we realized that assisting subsistent farmers to produce food on their own would be a much more effective measure to take. This is what led to our 25 year endeavor here in Africa.

After speaking with Dr. Norman Borlaug and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter to ask for their cooperation in this initiative, I was able to get a strong confirmation from both parties and in 1986 we established the Sasakawa Africa Association and launched the SG2000 Project. Since its launch the Sasakawa Africa Association has worked in 14 countries.

As we are gathered here to celebrate its 25th anniversary, I would like to take this opportunity to share with you, three distinguishing features of SG2000.

The first feature is continuous evolution. SG2000 has made a steady evolution over the course of the project. Each time we faced a difficult challenge, we managed to find a way to overcome it and step up to the next challenge. At first, we focused solely on increasing production, using techniques that were familiar to the farmers. But increased production was not enough. We then realized that without the skills to process and preserve the extra surplus the farmers’ lives would not improve very much. This is why we developed training programs for food processing and storage in addition to educating the farmers on how to increase production. And now, the project is striving to support value chains that are connected in all phases from production and processing to market distribution.

The second feature is dedication. The project could not have come this far without the dedication of the founders, directors and staff of SAA, farmers, and everyone who took part to help the farmers of Africa. In particular, the extension workers have played a vital role. In keeping with our founding concept – to work side-by-side with farmers and to labor in the fields together – the extension workers have gone from farm to farm, teaching techniques and establishing trust with the farmers.

We believe that cultivating these extension workers – people with abundant knowledge who understand farmers – is one of the most important aspects of our support toward Africa’s agriculture. The universities present here today lent us their cooperation and as result, more than three thousand extension workers have participated in the BSc in agricultural extension degree course, and are now working in the field. Some graduates have been posted to important positions in their agricultural ministries, and are now participating in policy-making at the national level and working for the benefits of their farmers. I truly believe that the efforts and dedication of all these people are what has kept this project going.

The third feature is perseverance. The operation of this project has not always been a smooth ride. At times the project failed to produce tangible results; at other times it produced results quite opposite of what was intended. Unlike in Asia, where the Green Revolution brought expansive results in a short time, here in Africa the challenges are more complex. The Green Revolution in Asia occurred in the irrigated areas. In Africa, agriculture depends upon the rain. In Asia, the roads and ports are more extensive than in Africa. Finally, the Asian Green Revolution was led by government. In Africa donor-requested adjustment programs damaged public-private partnerships.

On the ground, the extension workers faced difficulty from the start, as it was not easy trying to reach smallholder farmers, many who were isolated and doubtful of the technologies and methods being recommended. At times, the farmers rejected the offer. But no matter how difficult the situation, the thoughts of families who would have to sleep another night in hunger, was what kept us going.

“Never give up”. This was Dr. Borlaug’s motto and I believe it should be the motto of each one of us here today. We shall “never give up” in the struggle to bring food security and income security to African farmers.

And now that I have shared our past twenty five years with you, let me talk about our present and future prospects.

Presently, I believe SG2000 is stronger than ever because we have started collaboration with a number of new partners and donors. Permit me to give two examples in Ethiopia.

In Ethiopia, we are working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in implementing a project designed to change and improve the extension system. And in northern Ethiopia, we are working with Japan International Cooperation Agency to create an integrated value chain model for rice. In both these projects, our outstanding human assets – our extension workers and directors – are expected to apply their capabilities to their full potential.

As an initiative to further strengthen SG2000, we have been putting more emphasis on strengthening the value chain to connect small scale farmers to the market. This would mean that, a farmer who produces and processes his crop will be able to transport and sell his products in the market. With the profit made, he will be able to buy seeds and other necessary inputs for the next season. Such a sustainable value chain would require all of the components – production, post-harvest and sales – to be well connected. Our aim is to create as many of these successful models as possible because success stories are what will motivate the farmers.

Agricultural cooperatives and Farmer Based Organizations will play a crucial role in connecting the components in the value chain. Both organizations guarantee farmers a steady income as well as the ability to purchase and use machinery and other necessities collectively. Otherwise, such equipment would be too expensive for farmers to purchase on their own. These organizations are common in Japan and the U.S., but there are only a number of successful operations here in Africa.

For the past few years we too have been working to create and/or strengthen agricultural cooperatives especially in Mali and in Uganda but also in Ethiopia and Nigeria. In Mali, we have been helping farmers to establish cooperatives known locally as “Niet@Kene”. The market linkages of these farmer-based organizations are now being strengthened. The role and purpose of these cooperatives need to be correctly understood by the members for more successful operations as well as to strengthen the governance of these cooperatives.

In order to improve the situation, we are thinking to start a new training program drawing on lessons learned and the best available practices, to educate the leaders, members and managers that oversee farmer-based organizations like the “Niet@Kene”. We believe such capacity building can help set these agricultural cooperatives firmly in place, and contribute to forging the needed links in the post-production value chain.

The role of government is extremely important to any vision for a better future in Africa. Your efforts and commitment are key to motivating and encouraging the farmers who want actions that they can see. Governments must be the unifying force in solving Africa’s agricultural problems.

Furthermore, I believe that agriculture is the key to solving many other problems that Africa is facing. Currently, many of the small-scale farmers who make up the majority of the population are suffering from malnutrition due to lack of food. With improved food security, these farmers would be able to drastically lower their risk of disease.

In addition, too many smallholder farmers who have cooperated with SG 2000 over the years have not been able to adopt the effective farming methods that the extension workers have been teaching. They often stick to their old methods, which are inefficient and produce low yields, not because they want to, but because they don’t have the money or the access to buy the inputs. If African smallholder farmers could adopt the new techniques, Africa could feed itself and more. Families, who have up to now had to make their children work in the field so that they would have enough food to survive for the year, would be better able to send their children to school.

This is the future that I dream about.

Going forward, we will strive to be a good partner in working with those African leaders who have shown deep commitment toward smallholder agricultural development.

After the departure of Dr. Borlaug, we have been able to welcome a strong female leader, Dr. Ruth Oniang’o as our new Chairperson. The Sasakawa Africa Association will enter a new phase under her initiative. Let us move ahead with a renewed commitment to serve Africa’s food producers and consumers.

Thank you for your kind attention.