AGRA Board Chair: There is urgency for Africa to actively participate in fighting climate change

This year, three high-profile events have been held to define the future of Africa’s agricultural and food systems. These were the AGRF Summit, the UN Food Systems Summit and the 26th Climate Convention (COP26). AGRA had a central role in these three events; with representation from key institutional heads including the Board Chairman, H.E. Hailemariam Dessalegn and AGRA’s President, Dr. Agnes Kalibata. With a special focus on Nigeria, the Nigeria Economic Forum was also held towards the end of October, again with AGRA participating in the influential dialogue. Against this background, we spoke to H.E. Dessalegn, for his perspective on the four summits, and especially their impact on Africa’s agricultural and food system transformation. 

Question: What are some of the reflections from the 2021 AGRF Summit held in Nairobi, Kenya?

H.E. Dessalegn: The AGRF is one of the pre-eminent gatherings for making important decisions on Africa’s agricultural and food systems. In its 10 years of existence, the forum has gained wide recognition in Africa and beyond as a showcase of strategies for building robust agro- economies. 

This year’s edition was attended by more than 8000 people from 100 countries.  The delegates included heads of states, entrepreneurs, researchers, the civil society and farmers.

We are glad to note that the summit achieved its core mandate of bringing together the relevant stakeholders to outline the next steps for the development of resilient and sustainable food value chains across Africa.

Guided by the Africa Common Position Document and the UN Food System Summit, at the AGRF Summit we called out five areas of urgent priorities in this area, including: 

  1. Catalyze rapid expansion in agriculture and food productivity, with a particular focus on smallholder farmers and women;
  2. Boost investment financing for Africa’s food systems;
  3. Ensure access to safe and nutritious food for all;
  4. Strengthen Africa’s local and regional food markets;
  5. Build resilience especially through social safety nets, and early warning systems.

Question: With the recent conclusion of the UN Food Systems Summit, what’s next for Africa? 

H.E. Dessalegn: The Food Systems Summit presented a great platform for world leaders to discuss the pertinent issues affecting the  food sector. In particular, leaders engaged in various conversations around food insufficiency, malnutrition and obesity, with the aim of finding the best solutions for nourishing the world.  Among these solutions was the development of public-private partnerships that drive investments towards projects that boost national food security. A global agreement was also reached to support smallholder farmers in increasing their output. Increasing their output is key to supporting well-nourished societies. Meanwhile, it was agreed that there is a new urgency for Africa to actively participate in combating climate change, realizing that its effects are adversely affecting the continent’s food and nutrition systems.

Question:  From COP26, what must be done to address the climate change challenges in the world?

H.E. Dessalegn: Africa’s contribution of greenhouse gases is minimal when compared to other regions. However, the continent appears to be suffering more from the negative effects of climate change including droughts, floods, mudslides and pest attacks.  Going forward, it is important that the promises and commitments made towards climate justice are delivered upon, especially by the large emitters. At COP26, AGRA was pursuing immediate remedial actions against climate change, which at this point, also involves educating smallholder farmers in Africa on how to adapt to climate change, including through the use of modern agricultural technologies. 

Question: What are the key initiatives that AGRA is working on to transform Africa’s food systems?

H.E. Dessalegn: AGRA is working closely with smallholder farmers across Africa through programs that provide education on environmentally-friendly agriculture. Similarly, as a catalytic intermediary, we are working closely with governments and the private sector in projects that improve food security by pursuing the increased output of local agricultural products.  In our relationships with governments, we play a vital role in supporting policy formulation and capacity building. It is also worth mentioning our participation in the development of Nigeria’s seed and fertilizer laws.   

Question: Why was AGRA participating in the Nigeria economic forum?

H.E. Dessalegn: The Nigeria Economic Summit presented a key opportunity for us to consolidate our support of the country’s leadership in driving an all-inclusive economic transformation. AGRA was participating in the forum as an organization that looks out for the interest of the more than 21 million smallholder farmers, who actively drive Nigeria’s economic growth. The Economic Forum was, therefore, an ideal platform for AGRA to rally both the public and private sector players to invest in agriculture as a key influencer of economic transformation.

Question: How can Africa’s youth be encouraged to invest in the continent’s food sector? H.E. Dessalegn: In order for youth in Africa to see agriculture as a desirable and economically viable career path, we, as leaders, must double our effort to change the negative perceptions associated with the agriculture industry. We must make agriculture attractive by modernizing it, through among other ways, digitizing production processes and investments. Today’s youth are technologically savvy and will take to agriculture if it is re-drafted as a forward-thinking industry that is well mechanized. Governments and the private sector leaders have different roles in this transformation but if they each fulfil their end of the bargain, then Africa will achieve a youth-led food system transformation.

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