Opinion: Responding to crisis — growing Africa’s food systems
In recent years, Africa has been dealing with a multitude of overlapping food systems shocks — climate-induced drought and floods, locust attacks, the COVID-19 pandemic, and conflict. The World Bank warns that for each one percentage point increase in food prices, 10 million people are thrown into extreme poverty. If food prices stay this high for a year, global poverty could go up by more than 100 million people.
As the world scrambles to address the current crises, the continent is reminded that only Africans can take responsibility for building climate resilient, nutritious, and inclusive systems that leave no one behind — as envisioned by the Sustainable Development Goals. This is why the African Union declared 2022 as the year of nutrition and why we must implement the national food systems pathways agreed upon at the U.N. Food Systems Summit in 2021. Progress made to date will be undone if we fail to lead and fail to act now.
Advances in productivity have been made
After decades of stagnation, much of Africa has witnessed sustained agricultural growth — 4.73% per year on average between 2000 and 2018. A promising transformation has already started in Africa’s farmlands. Farmers are increasingly using innovative approaches and scientific research combined with traditional knowledge to increase the productivity of their fields, diversify their crops, boost their nutrition, and build climate resilience. Yet Africa is struggling to achieve the SDGs.
Resilience through food systems transformation
Africa, like other regions, must adapt and fundamentally transform food systems to meet its development goals. This reality is being confronted head-on. Some 37 African countries committed to national pathways for food systems transformation as part of the Food Systems Summit, and many also contributed to the development of an African Common Position curated by the African Union Commission and the African Union Development Agency.
The African Common Position and national food systems pathways will not happen without stakeholders at every stage of the food system taking ownership — governments, the private sector, finance institutions, producers, and civil society. Those with a responsibility to act, ensure strong accountability, avoid unnecessary externalities, and ensure investments are attracted to food systems. So, the AU Commission, with other partners, is developing a blueprint to move from national pathways to food systems strategies and investment plans that will help unlock priority actions and needed investments.
Africa needs to demonstrate a unity of purpose
The multiple crises that have created rippling effects on our food systems have been brought into sharp focus at this year’s Africa Green Revolution Forum, or AGRF, in Kigali. The AGRF is Africa’s premier platform for discussing and advancing the continent’s food systems and agricultural transformation to give all voices within the food systems the opportunity to promote bold initiatives, collaboration, large-scale innovation, and action.
The forum offers a platform to have a conversation across African constituencies and bring in the experience of global partners to help define ways to both manage crisis and advance the critical food systems transformation agenda. We have already heard from the governments of Ghana, Malawi and Rwanda at the AGRF, on how they are implementing their food systems pathways to inspire other countries.
The time is now for the continent to demonstrate a unity of purpose to effectively tackle hunger and nutrition insecurity, address climate change, and advance inclusive development.
About the authors
Ambassador Josefa Sacko is a leading African agronomist and commissioner for agriculture, rural development, blue economy, and sustainable development at the African Union Commission. Prior to her reelection in 2021, she was special adviser to the Angolan minister of environment and climate change — and adviser to the minister of agriculture in charge of food security and poverty reduction. Sacko was also the former secretary-general of the Inter-African Coffee Organization for 13 years.
Agnes Kalibata is the president of AGRA, leading its efforts to ensure a food secure and prosperous Africa through inclusive, sustainable agricultural transformation, improving the productivity and livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers in Africa. Prior to joining AGRA, Kalibata was Rwanda’s minister of agriculture and animal resources, where she drove programs that moved her country to food security helping to lift more than a million Rwandans out of poverty. Over the last two years, she has also served on the global scene as the special envoy of the U.N. secretary-general for the Food Systems Summit.