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This is our time to get food systems right

For many decades, it has been perceived that the solution to food insecurity in Africa is increased agricultural productivity. While this is part of the solution, it is not the entire remedy. Without increasing resilience through  integrated agricultural markets for cost-effective and nutritious foods, the continent’s food value chains continue to be broken.

This has been made clear during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted supply chains with breakdowns in everything from transport and communication, to finance and education.  The breakdown has led to widespread increases in global food insecurity, affecting vulnerable households in almost every country in Africa. With the effects of COVID-19 expected to continue through 2021 and into 2022, there are fears of a worsening food situation for the more than 20 percent of Africans – 272 million people – that are already living with or are at the risk of severe food insecurity. Such dire situations confirm that we have fallen back on our commitment to achieving zero hunger, a key Sustainable Development Goal (SDG).

However, just as the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed us  to work differently, I believe it presents an opportunity to reimagine a new vision for the future of food systems in the continent.  This is our time to unite as one voice to define and coordinate our visions for the future of food systems in Africa.

Right now, we are working to repair significant damage caused by a variety of factors, including droughts that have cost Africa US$372 billion since 2014, and the 2019/20 locust outbreak, which destroyed more than 356,000MT of cereals, and nearly 1.5 million hectares of crop and pasture in Ethiopia alone.

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We must not only recover from these losses but leapfrog them to build a resilient future. On this path, business and public leaders must come together to step forward and commit to the targets set by the United Nations as SDGs. It is important to note that there are just nine harvests left for us to achieve the SDGs, and  we are currently not  on target.

We also committed 10 percent of our budgets towards agriculture under the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), a pledge that only a few countries have fulfilled! It is now our time to drive efforts to recommit to food and nutrition security and sustainable food systems across the continent. Sustainable food systems require us to look at the entire value chain from input supplies, mechanization, irrigation, extension, transport, processing, distribution and healthy consumption

There are a number of countries that have instituted food systems that work for their realities, leading them to better feed their people while giving them stable livelihoods. The Government of Burkina Faso (GoBF), for example, is succeeding in increasing its domestic rice output through investments and policies that favour local production. The GoBF is working towards a production of at 1 million metric tonnes annually, which will reduce rice imports by over 75 percent. In Tanzania too, agro-industrialization flagships have increased the participation of women agripreneurs in manufacturing and processing, creating opportunities that did not exist before. The flagship seeks to increase the country’s total GDP by five percent, while creating one million jobs by 2025.

I have recently been to both Burkina Faso and Tanzania, as well as four other countries (Ethiopian, Kenya, Ghana, Malawi and Nigeria), where I personally witnessed the transformatory impact of investments including flagship projects in agricultural development. Lessons can be drawn from the most effective strategies in such countries, with the successful programs adapted to suit different country contexts.

Development partners also have a fundamental role to play in Africa’s agricultural transformation. As one example, 62 percent of farmers supported by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) have adopted technology to increase their yields and incomes. AGRA has also leveraged $141 million new investments through partnershipsthe AGRF Dealroom. This is in addition gender-responsive programming that has directly supported 3.5 million women farmers.

To review the progress and commitments that will move the continent’s food systems forward stakeholders will coalesce at the AGRF 2021 Summit, in Nairobi Kenya from September 7 – 10. The AGRF 2021 Summit will feature pathways  to the future of Africa’s food systems based on equitable livelihoods, better nutrition, resilience in production and competitiveness in markets.

This year’s AGRF takes place at critical juncture in the global discussion on food systems. The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres has convened the UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) as part of the Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. The UNFSS has many coalitions globally forming to re-energize and refocus efforts to deliver healthier, sustainable and equitable food systems.

The AGRF 2021 Summit will leverage the UNFSS momentum to elevate the coordinated African voice in identifying immediate actions for accelerating the progress, partnerships and recovery towards an inclusive agricultural transformation.

This is our time to elevate the future leaders of African agriculture, particularly youth, women and small businesses owners throughout the food system; from farm to fork. We must from now resume our commitment to achieving zero hunger in the continent by taking critical steps towards integrated food systems.

We own the decision to participate and shape a vision that commits resources towards Africa’s food systems transformation. Will you join us? I look forward to welcoming you at this year’s AGRF Summit.

H.E. DESSALEGN is former Prime Minister of Ethiopia and current Board Chair of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)

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