Feb 20, 2023 | Blog

Accelerated national food systems pathways require strong leadership and accountability

Slightly over 16 months ago, African heads of State and 20 ministers presented their national pathways for food systems transformation at the UN Food Systems Summit. The pathways are envisioned as opportunities for the people who work in food systems – across the public and private sector, and civil society – to identify the priorities for the attainment of sustainable and equitable food systems.

In this article, we collate views from leaders in food systems explaining the major limiting factors preventing many countries from advancing their national pathways, the steps taken to spur action by the successful ones, and the strategies for achieving more desirable results. The speakers shared their views at the AGRF, Africa’s Food Systems Forum 2022, in Kigali, Rwanda.

H.E. Lazarus Chakwera, President of Malawi

Following the Food Systems Summit, Malawi undertook a nationwide multi-stakeholder dialogue process to identify policy and implementation gaps and agree on game changing propositions to trigger a structural transformation for the entire food system. As a result, we identified catalysts to lead the transformation of the food systems in Malawi, including policy coherence; infrastructure development like roads, processing and storage facilities; diversification of diets, equitable access and control of productive resources like land and water; changing consumer trends, and the digitization of the agricultural sector. Our focus now is turning these priority aspirations into actions.

Rt. Hon. Tony Blair, Executive Chair of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change

The toughest thing about the government… is getting anything done; nothing happens unless you get the whole government mobilized, unless you focus on implementation. The current situation is unacceptable… Africa is a rich continent, with too many poor people, many of them farmers. We know what we have to do, but doing it requires focus, with, attention to detail, and the determination that the job will be done.

Jean Claude Musabyimana, Minister of Local Government, Rwanda

We (Rwanda) are now on the food systems implementation strategy and implementation plan, where we want to define actionable and pragmatic sets of investment areas that will catalyze the food system transformation, and, so far, we have identified six game changing solutions: 1) nutritious food programs; 2) food loss and waste management, 3) inclusive markets and food value chains 4) sustainable and resilient food production systems, 5) inclusive financing and innovative investments, and 6) effective mainstreaming of youth and women in food systems. We have the implementation model, and we have 14 indicative priority programs… we opted not to create new structures but new delivery mechanisms… We have now designed programs to address critical areas raised during the food systems dialogues.

Dr. Apollos Nwafor, Vice President, Policy and State Capability, AGRA

The question is how do we turn national pathways into strategies that have clear deliverables – which governments and everyone else can be held accountable for? If we don’t do this, Africa will be the only hungry continent by 2030. We need to take a political economy approach to this (transformation). When we consider a national food systems strategy, we need to understand what is the political economy for food systems transformation in that country and at what cost? Who’s going to benefit from it and why? and who’s going to lose and why? We also must consider capacities – for example the CAADP (Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme) is a fantastic framework to drive agricultural transformation, but only two countries are on track, and this is due to a capacity gap. As much as we have policy frameworks in our countries, implementation has been weak, and that is majorly through implementation capacity…and because of that, governments are now willing to prioritize because they do not see the capacity for delivery. Finally, we must rethink blended financing or the financing mechanisms for these strategies

Dr. Godfrey Bahiigwa, Director of Agriculture and Rural Development, African Union Commission.

We (the African Union) have identified and defined the process that will allow us to engage and support member states to operationalize what they have identified in their food systems pathways and, actually, this is moving from ideas into bankable business cases that are implementable. At the same time, we are looking at how to enhance the actual capacity to implement, both in terms of public-private blended actions, but also involving sub-national institutions, and at the same time connecting with regional and continental efforts in realizing success.

Readwell Musopole, Deputy Director of Planning, Ministry of Agriculture, Zimbabwe

We (Zimbabwe) have come up with a roadmap in terms of how we move forward and it consists of four main areas: 1) Providing space for the minister of agriculture to take the action plan and lead the commitment with their ministerial colleagues, 2) to take this to the technocrats within the line ministries and provide details of identified challenges, and the priorities to be undertaken in the short term as well as the medium terms, 3) to have national validation sessions, where we are going to invite everyone to input and enrich this work to adopt the agenda at the country level, 4) to take this outcome at the national level to ground-level structures — the district councils — because we realized at the national stage is where the strategies and policies are put together, but in terms of action it’s going to be done at the grassroot level – the district council level. The production of the national consultations we envisage is going to be input into the national planning cycles and at the district council levels.

Gerda Verburg, Coordinator, Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement

We need to translate the pathways into policy, legislation, execution and financing, while making sure that the focus of our governments is not on only buying food to feed their people… but investing a part of the $60 billion per year that African governments are investing in importing food – which is an annual cost, but not an investment for the future – so that part of it is invested in the transition to become less dependent on imports and provide a better future for farmers, people, youth, women and communities.

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