Defining food systems for the Africa we want

The need to transform food systems in Africa to reduce poverty and improve food security and nutrition is more urgent than ever before.

So, how should we define food systems for the Africa we want?

Kicking off AGRA 2020’s closing Presidential Summit, H.E. Josefa Leonel Sacko, AU Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, began by addressing the fact that only four African countries are on track to meet their 2025 Malabo Declaration targets.

“You won’t end hunger if you don’t invest,” said Sacko. Those four countries, “Rwanda, Morocco, Mali and Ghana, are really investing in the agriculture sector.” Other countries, she said, now need to follow suit if they are to improve food security and nutrition on the continent, in line with Commitment 2 of the Malabo Declaration.

Looking ahead, Sacko highlighted the opportunity afforded by the implementation of the CFTA in 2021 – an opportunity to reduce poverty, create jobs for youth, and decouple Africa’s dependency on global imports. “We saw the disruption COVID-19 brought for food distribution,” she said, “so we need to be independent and build our own food reserves.”

Next up, Hon Karina Gould, Canada’s Minister of International Development, urged for a cross-sectoral food system approach, stating that “we need to break down sectoral silos and take an integrated approach to food systems”. She identified the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit as an opportunity to encourage integration and collaboration across Africa on how food is produced. She also insisted that climate issues and gender equality must be part of Africa’s efforts to build back better and leave no one, especially no women, behind.

Ms. Gerda Verburg, UN Assistant Secretary-General, furthered the narrative on integration, asserting that “political leaders have an important role to play to make sure ministers and departments are able to work together”. With food systems requiring a focus not only on food but on equality, the environment, and economic development, political leaders, she said, “need to take on the role of coach to promote a team approach and collaboration…we need KPIs in nurturing an intersectoral approach”.

Verburg also distinguished between different stages in food system recovery: The ‘emergency’ and ‘resilience’ stages, which involve working with people in-country to ensure good food and nutrition are at the heart of emergency response and resilience building; and ‘building back better’, which involves long-term systems change. Youth were also identified as key players in the recovery process. “Involve your new generation,” she said, “try to create decent jobs, because they will be the generation who [help to build] your prosperous future”.

H.E. Graça Machel, Chairperson of the Graça Machel Trust, spoke of the potential role and agency of the hungry. “Instead of only building resilience,” she said, “we need to transform the hungry into producers”. Echoing a recurrent theme in this session and the AGRF as a whole, Machel also said that “unless we empower women and youth, there is no way we are going to reduce food insecurity, stunting and malnutrition on the continent”.

As the final speaker of this opening Presidential Summit sequence, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair reflected on how COVID-19 has deepened and aggravated pre-existing challenges on the African continent.

However, he suggested the pandemic has also catalyzed a remarkable “clarity and urgency of decision making” which, if applied to Africa’s food systems, could have a transformative impact.

“This is a moment,” he said, “where the countries that succeed will be those who…focus on what really needs to be delivered by their governments” and on what needs to change to make agriculture more productive.

One crucial development, said Mr. Blair, will be the ratification of CFTA. “If Africa did literally nothing else but implement the CFTA and break down trade barriers between African countries, it would make an enormous difference.” Africa, he said, also needs “to do more to add value to its raw materials and commodities”. The continent “currently fails to capture this value” and requires greater focus and investment to address this issue.

In a concluding video address, having thanked Rwanda for hosting this year’s AGRF, Dr. Agnes Kalibata, President of AGRA, spoke of the urgent need to prevent the present health crisis from becoming a food crisis. “We must not allow this pandemic to roll back hard-won gains…or divert our attention away from efforts to end poverty and hunger everywhere.”

Looking ahead, Dr Kalibata said we “need to engage on the issues that are most pressing and critical for Africa.” And she insisted that, despite the challenges that still need to be resolved, “we can build a resilient world where no one is poor, no one is hungry, and no one is left behind”.