Calls for a Whole Government Approach to Feeding our Cities

This year’s AGRF theme is Feed the Cities, Grow the Continent, and the summit’s focus for its second day was nutrition and health. One session fed neatly into both these overarching themes: Feeding and Employing Africa’s Urban Population. A distinguished panel of guests, including Dr. Vimal Shah, Chairman, BIDCO, Mr. Khalid Bomba, CEO, ATA, Ethiopia and Ms. Emma Wade-Smith, UK Trade Commissioner for Africa took part in a lively discussion around the issues.

The context was set by Dickson Naftali, Head, Generation Africa who outlined the challenges around food and jobs: Africa faces an import food bill of USD 35 billion a year and the continent faces 65% unemployment. The question is, does the sector have the potential to keep expanding, especially in cities?

Mr. Khalid Bomba, CEO, ATA, Ethiopia began proceedings and talked about the policy actions needed. He pointed out that in the near to midterm cities will be fed by produce grown in rural areas, so talking about things like vertical farming in cities is premature. There is still plenty of work to be done with rural farmers and job creation outside of traditional agriculture along the value chain. Dr. Vimal Shah, Chairman of BIDCO called for a radical approach to change mindsets and adapt to changing consumption pattern, particularly as we learn to live alongside COVID-19. He argued for a full value change approach and described how agriculture needs to change to agribusiness. Every farmer needs to be a businessman and if they are to thrive, then real legislation that liberalizes agribusinesses is crucial. He also advocated for the use of land, encouraged by a land tax if left idle. He dubbed it as Uberization – no need to own it, lease it - and called to make agribusiness sexy!

Ms. Emma Wade-Smith, UK Trade Commissioner for Africa agreed and talked about how development partners must help with a whole system approach, including public-private partnerships. Mr. Tony Nsanganira, Coordinator: Youth Employment Program – FAO/RAF urged the inclusion of young people who make up 70% of the continent’s population and who run millions of the SMEs that are agriculture’s backbone. He acknowledged the importance of corporate multinationals but urged us to keep young SMEs on the radar.

Ms. Wade-Smith talked about strengthening the cross-sectorial mechanism by breaking down the silo mentality, adding that it is outrageous that we still talk about what needs to happen because everyone knows and agrees. More political commitment is needed. AfCFTA can support that by reducing tariffs and making cross-border trade easier which will in turn encourage investment. Dr. Shah pointed out we are still all in silos, with Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda becoming more, not less, isolated, and charging each other taxes while allowing China to import freely. He was adamant it needs to stop, that the cost of doing business is too high because imported goods have lower duty, or are often duty-fee. He called for the revolution to be put back into the AGRF.

Mr. Bomba decried that perfect is the enemy of the good and called for a minimal viable option approach. He agreed that there had been too much talking and said that change does not happen when all the stars are aligned, it happens when there’s momentum.

Everyone agreed that it is time for Africa to feed itself, because with 65% of the world’s uncultivated arable land, there is no reason for Africa to be a net food importer. What is needed is a whole government approach.