Washington DC, USA (PAMACC News) - The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has awarded Dr. Agnes Kalibata, the President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) with the 2019 NAS Public Welfare Medal.
The NAS Public Welfare Medal is the Academy's most prestigious award and is presented annually to honor extraordinary use of science for the public good. Dr. Kalibata was recognized for her work in driving Africa’s agricultural transformation through modern science and effective policy, helping to lift more than a million Rwandans out of poverty and scaling impacts for millions more African farmers.
Upon receiving the award, Dr. Kalibata emphasised that agriculture has tremendous power to move massive numbers of people out of poverty and is the key to building prosperity in Africa.
“My presence here today is proof of possibilities. Possibilities whose reality on my continent is fueled by agriculture. I grew up as a refugee in Uganda and even attained my PhD while I lived in a refugee camp. Throughout this period, agriculture sustained my family and got us out of poverty. I am happy to witness my country Rwanda and a few other countries in Africa awakening to the tremendous power of agriculture to move massive numbers of people out of poverty” she said.
Since 2014, Dr. Kalibata has been the president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), an African-led organization founded by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan that works with public and private partners to promote rapid, inclusive, sustainable agricultural growth and food security by giving farmers access to locally adapted and high-yielding seeds, encouraging judicious use of fertilizer, promoting policy reforms, and increasing access to structured markets to improve the livelihoods of farming households. Prior to joining AGRA, Dr. Kalibata spent six years as Rwanda’s minister of agriculture and animal resources, implementing a science-based approach to agriculture that greatly increased efficiency and productivity and transformed Rwanda to a largely food-secure nation.
Dr. Kalibata is also widely heralded as one of the most successful agriculture ministers in sub-Saharan Africa. During her tenure from 2008 to 2014, Rwanda reduced its poverty by more than 50 percent, largely through targeted agricultural programs for family farmers. Kalibata contributed to the growth of the nation’s agricultural sector from an annual budget of less than US$10 million to more than US$150 million annually. In addition, Rwanda became the first country to sign a compact under the African Union Commission’s flagship Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme.
Congratulating Dr Kalibata on her achievement, Susan Wessler, home secretary of the National Academy of Sciences and chair of the selection committee for the award observed that throughout her career, Dr. Kalibata has recognized that family farmers are the key to agricultural success. “She has consistently made family farmers the focus of science-based policies and interventions. Under her leadership, a remarkable agricultural transformation is underway in Africa that will benefit many generations to come.”
On his part, Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences said, “Dr. Kalibata has long championed science and evidence as the basis for practical agricultural policies that have transformed Rwanda to a model of prosperity and security. Her actions exemplify science as a powerful force for growth and well-being, and we are thrilled to present her with our highest award.”
As president of AGRA, Dr. Kalibata leads a staff of more than 200 across 11 priority countries, one of the largest pools of agricultural scientists and specialists in Africa working with global, regional, and national partners to drive a portfolio of investments worth more than US$500 million. AGRA’s goal is to improve the food security and incomes of 30 million farming households in the 11 countries by 2021; to date, more than US$360 million has been mobilized toward this effort.
According to Dr Kalibata farmers are not interested in charity or agriculture as a social program, they want a decent income from their work.
“My work in Rwanda took me into the field where I quickly learnt that all of the innovations developed by scientists, however good, would be useless—unless farmers had an incentive to adopt them. I challenge scientist to engage with policy makers and the private sector to advocate for the adoption of their innovations. Sitting in our labs and getting the work going is not enough,” says Dr. Kalibata.
AGRA is principally funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.K.’s Department for International Development, and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development through the Partnership for Inclusive Agricultural Transformation in Africa. AGRA’s focus has been on strengthening systems and tools to support Africa’s agriculture, such as high-quality seeds, better soil health, access to markets and credit, and on strengthening farmer organizations, private-sector capacity, and agricultural policies.