Protase Echessah, Senior Program Office, Regional Food Trade and Resilience Unit, AGRA
Gregory Chansa, Consultant, TetraTech
Mumbi Gichuri, Coordinator, Food Trade Coalition for Africa, Regional Food Trade and Resilience Unit, AGRA
During the 8th Joint Meeting of the Ministers responsible for Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environment from COMESA Member States, the Ministers pledged to fully support the implementation of the COMESA Digital Regional Food Balance Sheet (RFBS) Initiative. Under the theme of this year’s meeting: ”Building Resilience Through Strategic Digital Economic Integration”, the Ministers reviewed regional strategic frameworks and programmes to expand agricultural production and productivity, strengthen regional agri-food data and information systems, enhance resilience, increase access to markets, and trade in safe and high-quality agricultural commodities and products, enhance regional food security, adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change and build resilience.
The Regional Food Balance Sheet initiative (www.rfbsa.com) is a collaborative and multi-stakeholder engagement that includes participation from a range of analytical and technology partners to provide data and forecasts on crop production, cross-border trade, input supply, and data aggregation. The RFBS, launched by AGRA and COMESA at the 2022 AGRF Summit, is leveraging digital and satellite technology to enable more up-to-date monitoring and forecasting of food crop production, pest and disease attack, and other climatic shifts that could potentially impact food availability. It is a web-based tool that leverages machine-learning and advanced analytics to provide timely supply, demand, and price information about staple crops in Sub-Saharan Africa to inform evidence-based decision making by the public and private sector and other stakeholders in the ecosystem.
The recent shocks from the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia – Ukraine Crisis have further amplified the critical need for timely and reliable information on food availability, given the potential of these shocks to dramatically increase Africa’s food insecurity for millions of people throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Without reliable information about the spatial and temporal dimensions of commodity availability and demand, including production estimates, stocks, trade flows, and market information, it is difficult to understand the implications of these shocks and the policy responses to them. Addressing challenges around information and data are critical to not only increasing intra-African food trade, but to increasing food security on the continent.
The RFBS, anchored within the COMESA framework, was developed in collaboration with (AGRA), with support from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and the Rockefeller Foundation (RF).
In a virtual meeting held on Thursday, 24 November 2022, the Ministers pledged to promote and implement initiatives that contribute to reducing post-harvest losses, improve agriculture commodity aggregation and storage, and enhance competitive access to markets and trade in the region and internationally.
“We commit ourselves to enhancing access to production inputs, services and improved technologies including leveraging digital technologies to drive agriculture and livestock production and productivity”.
“We further request the COMESA Secretariat and its specialized institutions and agencies to work in close collaboration with Member States, cooperating partners, private sector, and other stakeholders to drive the implementation of the decisions taken at this virtual meeting” the Ministers stated in a joint declaration at the end of the meeting.
During the Meeting, COMESA Secretary General (SG), Chileshe Kapwepwe and AGRA Vice-President – Policy and State Capability, Dr. Apollos Nwafor, pitched for the support of the RFBS Initiative by COMESA Member States, arguing that the success and long-term sustainability of initiatives such as this depend on commitments from all players, especially governments who have the obligation to provide information/data as a public good. COMESA will anchor the RFBS in the long-term, but it is the Member States who will determine if the initiative survives or not. The Member States must commit to supporting this initiative through the establishment of critical structures at the national and regional levels, and by way of funding. They further argued that the success of the RFBS Initiative at national level will demand overall support to the initiative by government and other national level stakeholders, and inclusion in the national regional planning agenda.
The SG added that COMESA will continue to deploy skills and efforts in designing policies and instruments to speed up agricultural growth, facilitate trade and investment among its Member States and with the rest of the world. The meeting was also addressed by representatives of other cooperating partners of COMESA including Mr. Joseph Silavwe (European Union Delegation to Zambia and COMESA), and Mr. Patrice Talla (Food and Agriculture Organization).
The meeting affirmed the importance of timely, accurate and reliable data for informed policy decisions, investments in agri-food systems, and natural resources development in a rapidly changing agri-food system and environment.
This meeting was preceded by the 8th Joint Technical Meeting on Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources on 22 -23 November 2022.
The RFBS tool is critical and central to enhancing policy and market predictability – for functional food markets and food systems. This platform will inform data-driven decisions around production support, trade policy, and stock management by governments, business decision-making and investment by the private sector, and food aid by donors or emergency response organizations. Basic data on food production, consumption, trade, stocks and balances are essential to promote not just regional food security, but also long-term inclusive agricultural transformation, regional agricultural trade, and resilient food systems.