FORMER Ethiopian Prime Minister and Board Chair of AGRA, H.E. Hailemariam Dessalegn and former President, H.E. Jakaya Kikwete were in a familiarisation tour of AGRA’s activities in Tanzania in July, ahead of the AGRF summit in Nairobi, Kenya scheduled for mid-September and a UN Food System Summit (UNFSS) two weeks thereafter. He explains about the importance of the two summits in this Q&A interview with Daily News Staff Writer, Henry Lyimo.

Q: Why are AGRF and UN Food system summits important?

ANS: AGRF summits have been held every year for more than 10 years now. They date back to 2006, when the first summit was held in Norway to foster public-private partnerships and mobilising investments into agriculture in Africa.

The summits moved to Africa in 2010 with the championing of the late Kofi Annan to take an African identity as the African Green Revolution Forum and ensure leadership and broader engagement of African stakeholders in agricultural transformation agenda from a subsistenceoriented agriculture to one that is more commercialised, profitably productive, and smallholder and entrepreneur led.

AGRF summits now consist of an annual event combined with thematic platforms and year round engagement to track progress over time. They have been the platforms to bring together different actors in the agricultural value chain, governments, the private sector, youths, women, NGOs and all who are involved in agricultural production system.

These are premier gatherings and I can confidently say they are the only global summits that bring together all stakeholders in agriculture value chain.

“They are very important because; one, there is no matching to it. So if you see value chain in agriculture we need to increase production. To increase production we need to increase productivity and that refers to small holders farmers to increase capacity to produce, proper extension services to be delivered and also they should get markets for their produce.”

“This also means governments need to come up with proper policies that will boost production and productivity in agriculture and promote participation of all stakeholders in the whole value chain.” Again farmers need support not only from the government but also from non-government organisations and the private sector in general.

Similarly we need development partners to align to development policies of the government and ambition for farmers to produce. In addition to small holders farmers to produce, the private sector, large capitalized firms as well as millions of micro-entrepreneurs, need to produce and provide support to farmers to provide seed and fertilizers, chemicals and sometimes also educate in public about good agricultural practices in public private partnerships.

In these forums you will also find scientists because they have a very important role to play in the agriculture transformation agenda. Similarly you find traders because they are also very important in the agriculture value chain in terms of processing, packaging, and distribution of food to consumers and inputs to farmers.

This forum convenes all these stakeholders We will have presidential summit; we have ministers round table and we have diferent stakeholders and sections for example the youth section, women agri- dealers and farmers SMEs, farmers, governments, all getting together to make a deal for investment in agriculture Therefore, I think, in a nutshell, AGRF summits are very important platform forum bringing together all the necessary stakeholders to achieve food self-sufficiency and marketable surplus in the production system and also bring about nutrition security.

Q: What can we expect from this year’s summit?

A: This year summit is unique because of the Covid – 19 pandemic that has drastically affected lives and livelihoods and disrupted economic activities throughout the world through tight restrictions imposed by countries to halt the spread of the virus. So recovery and bouncing back from the magnitude of damages and far-reaching impacts of pandemic is very important.

The summit has been designed in such a way that our food system transformation should respond to the recovery. This is especially as we have never seen in the history of agriculture development in the last century where the pandemic adversely affected food and nutrition security and rural livelihoods in Africa.

I think our forum this year will take care of this and that explains the chosen title of the summit, “Pathways to recovery and resilient food systems.” The second uniqueness of the summit is that it is a platform where African nations will speak with one voice when they go to the UN Food System Summit (UNFSS) which will take place two weeks after the AGRF 2021 summit.

This forum will be conducted from 6th – 10th September and the UN Food System summit will follow from 20th September.

So, it means we will have two weeks only for African countries to prepare so that they can come up with a single coordinated African voice to the UNFSS and identify immediate actions and steps that need to be taken to accelerate progress and recovery towards inclusive agricultural transformation.

Q: Agriculture is by far the single most important economic activity in Africa. About 54 percent of Africa’s working force relies on the agricultural sector for livelihoods, income and employment, especially in family farming, according to Food and Agriculture Organisation. However, they produce less than its domestic supply and therefore are becoming more dependent on food imports. What can African countries do to attain food security?

ANS: Let me call food and nutrition security which is the most important goal for African nations and it require a number of actions and actors in order to achieve food and nutrition security.

Governments are very much required to discharge their responsibility and policy making and formulation that is suitable for all stakeholders to engage in production and as well and quality achievement of produce so that we attain security both at household and the country level.

Secondly, small holders farmers in Africa have a great role to play to achieve food and nutrition security and reduce poverty.They are the main food producers in developing countries and in a fact; they are the backbone of the sector.

One of the agricultural pathways towards sustainable food and nutrition security is through local production of nutritious food, activity in which smallholder farmers play a crucial role.

As major production comes from rural areas, we need those small and medium farming communities as well as highly sector engagement in large scale and modern technology based production; we need the private sector and financial institutions making loans and finances available for smallholders farmers and agro dealers of different kinds are necessary for value chain; and also we need professionals – scientists and extension workers, agents and public and private partnership.

So, all these are necessary to attain food and nutrition security in Africa. We have to address system bottlenecks in this regard and make available necessary inputs that will finances as well as.

Q: Agriculture is often associated with negative perceptions and therefore remains uninteresting among the youth in many African countries. How can African countries make agriculture a profitable and rewarding enterprise? How can they make it a viable business?

ANS: The demographic structure in Africa shows 70 per cent of the population is dependent on agriculture for livelihoods. So if you don’t consider the 70 per cent of your people in development policies so it means you have failed. You need to engage our young people to engage in agriculture but not the old traditional agricultural methods. We have to modernize agriculture.

We have to digitalize the agricultural sector. The youth need training, agribusiness development, exposure to new agricultural technologies and access to finance. We have to make it conducive and attractive to the young people.

Then, I think agriculture will be the mainstay for young people to engage in. I’m pretty sure that if we make these policies conducive to the young people they can produce, they can process and can be part of the market system in the process and also be very much engaged in advanced technology because these young people are very much friendly to new technologies.

As the saying goes it is very difficult to teach an old dog new tricks, new technology can be easily adopted by the young people so we can leap forward in this regard and agriculture can be attractive to the youth.

Similarly we see African agricultural structure women make up a larger proportion of smallholder farmers. But life for rural women isn’t easy.

Women farmers are held back by some socio-economic barriers. They don’t have the same rights as men, and often have to juggle domestic duties and agricultural work – sowing, weeding and harvesting crops, but also making food for their families and collecting firewood and water.

They also have more limited access to land, agricultural extension services and technologies. Therefore a production system which does not involve women is a failure again. Women must be at the center of any effort to promote sustainable agriculture, reduce hunger and improve rural livelihoods. We have to make sure that women get access to modern, labor-saving technologies and newer agricultural innovations that are being rolled out every day.

They must have access to these game-changing innovations if we want to transform our agriculture and ensure sustainable food and nutrition security. When it comes to loans and finances to agriculture, women smallholder farmers are at a disadvantage because they often don’t have the resources to satisfy the stringent banking requirements.

They need better access to suitable financial services, including credit, savings and insurance. Financial institutions should be encouraged to venture into supporting women farmers by coming up with special financing programmes to existing female farmers and target potential female farmers to invest in the agriculture sector.

So these are some of measures that can be considered to make agriculture profitable and rewarding enterprise, support women smallholder farmers and attract more youth in farming.

Originally published