Two years after the Food Systems Summit of 2021, we reflect on why we are here today. We have a lot of the answers, but all the data tells us that we have not been successful, that instead of reversing the crises, they have been compounded. We target achievement of the SDGs, but to be realistic, the work we have to do goes beyond the SDGs, if we are to address the persistent and chronic hunger and put the real focus on food supply.
Our food systems are what we have made them – unfair and inequitable in some areas, buffeted by shocks and stresses, with little or no preparedness to cope; while in others, they are efficient. Addressing the current crises, and undoubtedly future ones, will require building resilience in our systems and in our populations. We will need to arm the next and future generations of some parts of the world to escape from the never-ending cycle of hunger. This is a stain on the landscape in a world of plenty, reversing the progress of some countries. It is stealing the future of our young people, who are sometimes driven to take extreme measures to prosper: a young Boko Haram fighter earning three dollars a day can have access to food.
Let us remember that food supply and food system transformation start at the national level – supplying food for populations is the first responsibility of any government, whether by using available locally produced food or by seeking it across borders. Increasing our food supply in a responsible way goes hand in hand with growth for economic prosperity and social protection of the most vulnerable in our society.
Collectively, globally we need to act. For example, climate change has been a disruptive challenge – as we have seen with current realities, both in the north and south of the globe. Extreme weather events have a high cost. They risk the food security of people and reduce the resilience of productive natural ecosystems. The climate-change–food-systems nexus should be mainstreamed. This will nuance policy and investment interventions locally, foster improved climate-adapted agricultural technologies, generated locally, for climate-smart practices and approaches, and increase resilience, productivity and value-added processes. Conservation of biodiversity, and environmental governance should be parallel objectives.
There is a need to balance technological innovation and labour-intensive practices to increase productivity and enhance globally competitive agro-industrial performance. However, these approaches face several constraints, including inadequate access to finance, limited climate-adapted crops and livestock systems, and limited access to risk management tools. Globally, the various climate finance instruments, which have proliferated, should be adapted to resilience-building approaches, targeting people and systems. We know that just 2% of climate finance helps smallholder farmers, and these farmers are the bedrock of agricultural production.
MAKE AFRICA LESS RELIANT ON FOOD IMPORTS
The various crises have exposed our unpreparedness and exposed the gap in resilience coping strategies between the global North and South. The food supply crisis was a wakeup call – and an opportunity. It highlighted the need for governments to act and pushed them to become more self-reliant in food production – firstly, to provide food for their populations and, secondly, to recognise the importance and interdependence of regional global cooperation.
The Covid-19 pandemic exposed the intensity in poverty and inequality, with most households balancing largely non-existent social protection measures with increased levels of fragility and weakness. And all of this has had, and will continue to have an impact on systems and people. At the recent Dakar 2 Summit, for example, African presidents boldly set Resilience and Food Sovereignty as a goal, to make the Continent less reliant on imports to feed its people.
Africa imports, on average, 40% of its food under unfair terms of trade that have eliminated tariff protection at frontiers. The lack of a regional or stable continental market keeps the majority of farmers in perpetual poverty. With its 60% global share of uncultivated arable land, Africa is in a strategic position to cement global leadership in agriculture and agribusiness and become a food and agribusiness centre. To this end, there must be intentional investments and interventions focused on increased productivity, production, food supply and value chains.
The reality, though, is negative. Overall, Africa’s per capita food production has declined, while the population increase has led to a widening gap between production and consumption. However, it is a fact that expanding Africa’s food basket will serve both nutrition and resilience objectives. African smallholder producers, processing entities and traders, however, compete with international agribusinesses and food imports despite lacking key enablers such as access to technologies, inadequate financing services, fragmentation in the food markets, generally low levels of income, and high levels of risk and uncertainty. Therefore, African countries have neither a regional nor a stable continental market, which persistently keeps smallholder farmers on the continent in perpetual ‘poverty’. Access to energy and water as well as the development of local value-adding (food processing) capabilities are low.
Appropriate policies and regulatory frameworks are needed to enable the development of competitive supply chains. Also, digital innovations are needed not only for large-scale food producers and agro-industry systems, but also to benefit small-scale production and processing systems.
WE MUST PRIORITIZE YOUTH INVOLVEMENT
Young people are extensively engaged at the policy initiation and development stages globally, and this is increasing in Africa. More emphasis should be placed on participating, executing and implementing these policies, as well as on monitoring and evaluating processes. This will foster collective ownership, control and accountability. The continent has the fastest growing young population worldwide – 60% are under 24.
Young Africans need to believe that they have a stake in the development of the Continent. How to provide economic activities is a challenge and a question to be tackled by governments when helping one another. It is at once a domestic problem and a global phenomenon. We are witnessing the exodus of not only experts but also the young: they see no hope, so the opportunity for them to contribute to economic development is missed.
AFRICA’S AGRIBUSINESS AND AGRO-INDUSTRIALIZATION CRITICAL POINTS
Africa’s current agro-industrialization model pathways need urgent re-examination and realignment, and investment in science-innovation and human capital are needed. The focus in this should be on incentivising local food and agro-industrial growth. It should be along the length of food system value chains, through tailored trade-agriculture policies to advance the commercialization of smallholder agriculture, expand commodity ranges, and effectively integrate farmers and frontline SMEs into expanded domestic, transnational and regional supply and demand value chains.
To date, the adoption rate of improved technologies in Africa stands at about 35% – far lower than its potential. Only an estimated 33% of arable land is planted with improved crop varieties on the Continent. Digital innovations should be diffused globally, not only for large-scale food producers and agro-industry systems, but also to benefit small-scale production and processing systems. The conservation of biodiversity, and environmental governance will protect the land and water for the future. Aquaculture, a low carbon emission avenue for the low-cost production of protein and highly nutritious food is to be encouraged and taken to scale. Additionally, expanded investments in irrigation are needed and must be coupled with policies for the improved management and sustainable use of available water resources, to maximize agricultural output by adopting high-efficiency irrigation technologies and improved water management.
AN ENVIRONMENT FOR CHANGE
Placing digitalization at the centre in transforming food system strategies and policies will be key to harnessing its cross-cutting innovative power. Innovation funds, in the form of grants, especially for young people, should be used to create innovative activity platforms and provide incentives to improve collaboration across regions.
Leveraging institutional procurement across the board, making the necessary investments and institutional, policy, and regulatory arrangements, and using government procurement to stimulate private sector investment will encourage the emergence of competitive SMEs and supply chains. Food safety and regulations for school meals, as well as incentives for businesses to buy locally, involving specific agricultural and food system incentives, will result in food businesses opening. Investments in capital infrastructure and financing mechanisms for investing in national and trans-national businesses are needed to support emerging businesses and startups, especially among the youth and women. In the current geopolitical context, attaining these objectives will essentially depend on two main factors : regional integration and domestic resource mobilization.