Leaders must act on fragility of Africa’s food systems

Thursday, August 25th, 2022 09:23 | By
Baringo residents collect food relief. PHOTO/File
Baringo residents collect food relief. PHOTO/File

From September 5 to 9, 2022, African and global business leaders will converge in Kigali Rwanda, the permanent home of the Africa Green Revolution Forum (AGRF), the continent’s most influential gathering around Africa’s largest economic sector – agriculture and food systems.

This year’s AGRF is probably the most significant since the Covid-19 pandemic that not only heavily affected the 2020 and 2021 editions of AGRF, but also the 2021 United Nations Food Systems Summit. Covid-19 has confirmed that we need to reform our food systems, building back better will not be enough. We need to rethink how we produce, distribute and eat food, and to do this, African political and business leaders must think and act differently. They must be willing to set different agendas that transform their food systems.

The recently released 2022 State of Food Security and Nutrition Report paints an alarming picture of Africa’s agri-food systems transformation efforts. Despite unprecedented effort by Africa Heads of State and Government to drive regional change through country

Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programmes (CAADP) programs, the report indicates more than 35 million people were affected by hunger in 2020 compared with 2019, before the Covid-19 outbreak. The report further shows that 20 per cent of the population, or one in five people in Africa, faced hunger in 2021, compared to 9.1 per cent in Asia, and 8.6 per cent in Latin America and the Caribbean. Africa had the highest increase of the population affected by hunger compared to othwer continents. This should worry everyone.

Amid the onslaught of the Covid-19 outbreak, Africa has battled other crises. First, it was the increase in temperatures and changing precipitation patterns that threaten Africa’s food and water security. The El Niño-induced drought pattens during the 2015-2016 cropping seasons across the Southern African countries led to higher-than-normal temperatures and erratic and low rainfall. The 2019 devastating floods in the greater Horn of Africa, the 2019-2020 invasion of desert locusts in Eastern Africa, and the current looming climate-induced famine in the Horn of Africa, have made Africa an exposure and vulnerability for climate variability and climate impacts.

Secondly, around 2019, there came the rise in oil and gas prices. This saw a surge in crucial food commodity prices that saw over 89 per cent increase in price of major cereals and about 109 percent in rise in fertiliser prices, in two years.

Third, is the Russia-Ukraine crisis. This further exacerbating oil and gas prices and increasing global food markets.

Implications for these crises are more severe in Africa and leaders need to act differently. We are witnessing the largest cost-of-living crisis ever seen by any generation, and people’s capacity to cope is diminishing. Real incomes are falling and countries’ revenues and ability to respond are declining. Without robust actions, these changes are pushing citizens and could potentially result in social and political unrest in many countries.

The impact of these crises on existing vulnerabilities in Africa’s agri-food systems could be heightened unless mitigating actions are taken now to safeguard the continent’s food security and speed up recovery of the agricultural sector.

This is the moment for governments to consolidate the progress made and leverage existing structures and frameworks, including strengthening the CAADP process by adopting a more systemic view of food system transformation, beyond the current ambition of agricultural growth.

National governments need to take a holistic and integrated food systems approach. We are seeing a few countries like Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi and Rwanda making this shift to design food systems strategies and plans. This is important because a critical lesson from the crises is that food systems cannot be compartmentalised. Multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder approaches and coordination will be essential in tackling future pandemics.

— The writer is head of Policy and Advocacy at AGRA and also a 2017 Fellow for the Aspen New Voices Fellowship

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