How Africa can get food systems right and transform her fortunes

For decades, it has been perceived that the solution to food insecurity in Africa is increased agricultural productivity. While this is part of the solution, it is not the entire remedy. Without increasing resilience through integrated agricultural markets for cost-effective and nutritious foods, the continent’s food value chains continue to be broken.

This has been made clear during the Covid-19 pandemic, which has disrupted supply chains with breakdowns in everything from transport and communication, to finance and education. The breakdown has led to widespread food insecurity, affecting vulnerable households in Africa. With the effects of Covid-19 expected to continue through 2021 and into 2022, there are fears of a worsening food situation for more than 20 per cent of Africans – 272 million people. Such dire situations confirm that we have fallen back on our commitment to achieving zero hunger.

However, just as the pandemic has pushed us to work differently, I believe it presents an opportunity to re-imagine a new vision for the future of food systems. This is our time to unite, define and coordinate our food systems. Right now, we are working to repair significant damage caused by a variety of factors, including droughts that have cost Africa US$372 billion since 2014, and the 2019/20 locust outbreak, which destroyed more than 356,000MT of cereals, and nearly 1.5 million hectares of crop and pasture in Ethiopia alone.

We must not only recover from these losses but leapfrog them to build a resilient future. On this path, business and public leaders must commit to the targets set by the United Nations as SDGs. It is important to note that there are just nine harvests left for us to achieve the SDGs, and  we are currently not on target.

We also committed 10 per cent of our budgets towards agriculture under the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP),  a pledge that only a few countries have fulfilled. It is now our time to drive efforts to recommit to food and nutrition security and sustainable food systems across the continent.

Sustainable food systems require us to look at the entire value chain from input supplies, mechanisation, irrigation, extension, transport, processing, distribution and healthy consumption. A number of countries have instituted food systems that work for their realities, leading them to better feed their people and stable livelihoods.

Burkina Faso, for example, is succeeding in increasing its domestic rice output through investments and policies that favour local production. They are working towards a production of at 1 million metric tonnes annually, which will reduce rice imports by over 75 per cent.

In Tanzania too, agro-industrialisation flagships have increased participation of women agripreneurs in manufacturing and processing, creating opportunities that did not exist. The flagship seeks to increase their GDP by five per cent, while creating a million jobs by 2025.

I have recently been to Burkina Faso and Tanzania, as well as four other countries (Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana, Malawi and Nigeria), where I personally witnessed the transformatory impact of investments including flagship projects in agricultural development.

Development partners also have a fundamental role to play in Africa’s agricultural transformation.

As one example, 62 per cent of farmers supported by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) have adopted technology to increase their yields and incomes. AGRA has also leveraged $141 million new investments through partnerships. This is in addition to gender-responsive programming that has directly supported 3.5 million women farmers.

To review the progress and commitments that will move the continent’s food systems forward stakeholders will coalesce at the AGRF 2021 Summit, in Nairobi Kenya from September 7 – 10. The summit will feature pathways to the future of Africa’s food systems based on equitable livelihoods, better nutrition, resilience in production and competitiveness in markets.

The summit will seek a coordinated African voice in identifying immediate actions for an inclusive agricultural transformation.

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