Opening ceremony: An event delivered with grit and resilience

Not even the global COVID-19 pandemic could prevent the AGRF 2020 summit from going ahead, as the organizers showed the grit and resilience necessary to stage a safe virtual event reaching an audience right across the planet.

This was the key message in the address by AGRA President Dr. Agnes Kalibata, as she kicked off the summit’s official opening ceremony in Kigali, Rwanda.

Her comments seemed particularly appropriate as she announced Resilience as one of the event’s four target outcomes, alongside Food Systems, Nutrition, and Markets & Trade. These are collectively regarded as the primary points of focus for the attention of leaders as they take action to safeguard and improve the ability of Africa’s $250-billion food market to feed its cities and grow the continent.

As Dr. Kalibata said when considering Resilience, “We must bounce back better than ever, beyond just surviving the shocks we have witnessed.” She also congratulated the Government of Rwanda on hosting the event, reiterating that the country will be the AGRF summit’s primary home for the next five years.

She was followed on stage by the Hon. Gérardine Mukeshimana, Rwanda’s Minister of Agriculture & Animal Resources, who thanked AGRF for enabling her country to host the event over the next five years in recognition of its pre-eminent position in African agriculture.

She made the point that considering how to feed cities is vital at this point in Africa’s development as the continent’s pace of urbanization is the fastest on Earth.

Speaking next, AGRF Board Chair and former Prime Minister of Ethiopia, H.E. Hailemariam Dessalegn Boshe, emphasized that agriculture remains the “surest path to inclusive economic growth, jobs creation and dealing with the many challenges around climate change, migration and beyond. No region has built a modern economy without first strengthening the agricultural sector.”

He stressed the success of Rwanda in achieving this, following its recent recognition as a leader of African agriculture. He also highlighted his own country as “a living example of the importance of investing in agriculture” as Ethiopia experiences “rapid economic growth and poverty reduction”. Both examples, he felt, display the resilience that all of Africa will need to build into its food systems over the years to come.

The final speaker at the opening ceremony was Rt. Hon. Edouard Ngirente, the Prime Minister of Rwanda. He was keen to emphasize the importance of agriculture to African economies as the foundation for economic growth and employment creation.

With the Summit focusing this year on the theme “Feed the Cities, Grow the Continent”, Mr. Ngirente stressed the importance of polices and strategies that link farmers directly with the continent’s growing urban food markets. He also stressed the importance of developing a conducive environment for boosting intra-Africa trade as a means of accelerating the continent’s development.

As well as calling for countries to increase the application of fertilizers, he highlighted the importance of a streamlined transport system to help grow farmers’ income and make it easier for city dwellers to get high-quality food at a reasonable cost.

Above all, however, he emphasized the importance of making agriculture an attractive choice for young people, particularly given a population in which 60 percent are under the age of 25. “However, youth currently do not see agriculture as attractive,” he warned. “We need to de-risk the sector and invest in digital technologies to attract young people.”