The lack of transparency in agricultural markets is a pervasive problem that challenges farmers, traders, processors, investors, governments, and donors throughout Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Developing a common understanding of basic food production, consumption, and balances is essential to improve evidence-based decision-making across these actors and to promote regional food security and long-term inclusive agricultural transformation and resilient food systems. In recognition of the lack of reliable, timely, and accurate data on food balances in many SSA countries, AGRA is leading an effort to develop a digital regional food balance sheet (RFBS) that ingests data from a variety of public and private sources and then leverages advanced analytics and tools to develop near real-time and forward-looking food balance estimates. Using a user-centric design, 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.

The need for timely and reliable information is especially critical for evidence-based decision-making considering acute shocks that the region has faced in the last five years related to climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the global food security crisis brought on in part by the conflict in Ukraine that adversely affect the region’s food and nutrition security. The acute and recurring shocks from increasing climate variability (currently manifesting itself as a historic drought across the Horn of Africa) and more cyclical shocks such as locust outbreaks have the potential to dramatically increase food insecurity for millions of vulnerable people. 

The Regional Food Balance Sheet (RFBS) can play a key role in forecasting and responding to food crop shortages by giving policymakers and leaders critical, in-season data to devise strategies that solve the issue of food insecurity in eastern and southern Africa (ESA) region. A credible food balance sheet (FBS) provides the transparency required for government to make effective policy decisions on food trade and stock and disbursement and timely declaration of food crises, and for private sector to inform trade and investment decisions as well as justify policy lobbying efforts. In addition, FBS enables development partners to deploy food relief more effectively and vulnerable populations and farmers to make informed investment decisions through greater predictability of food prices and availability. A dynamic RFBS can serve as an early warning tool for food security, providing alerts frequently for decision-making by the public and private sector and relief agencies for emergency response.