SAVE THE DATE | 8-11 September, 2020 | Kigali Conference Center (KCC)

Theme: Feed the Cities, Grow the Continent – Leveraging Urban Food Markets to Achieve Sustainable Food Systems in Africa

Africa’s cities and food markets are rapidly expanding. Between cities like Lagos and Nairobi, secondary cities like Kumasi and Mbeya, and tertiary cities like Beira and Musanze, Africa’s cities and urban areas now include more than 421 million people. These vibrant hubs comprise an ever-growing number of consumers, diversity of incomes, diversity in diets, and therefore diversity in demand for food. Similarly, this food is being provided in an ever-growing number of ways, whether directly from farmers’ markets, a growing number of mini- and super-markets, food delivery services to a household door, and a burgeoning restaurant and emerging food truck scene for people at varying income levels. On the one hand, you have some of the largest concentrations of poverty, unemployment and underemployment, and people seeking basic food security. Millions of these individuals don’t own land and can’t produce food themselves, so they need to access it however they can and often at the cheapest price. On the other hand, you have a fast-growing middle and upper class in many places, seeking fresh, high quality produce and markets that cater to particular tastes. Food delivery services like Jumia and UberEats are bringing food directly to people’s doorsteps and offices. These trends will only continue, with African urbanization happening at twice the global rate, and Africa’s cities set to double in size to more than 1 billion people in the next 20 years.


Currently, Africa’s food markets are not working for all its people and are widely considered broken. Despite significant economic growth in Africa and progress in recent decades, more than 20 percent of Africans, or 277 million people, still face severe food insecurity, and as much as 50 percent of Africans, or 676 million people, live in moderate food insecurity where they do not have enough to eat at certain meals and occasionally go hungry. This is in a context where we’re producing more food than ever, but we’re losing and wasting as much as 30-40% of food in sub-Saharan Africa that is never consumed. Meanwhile, malnutrition is an even greater problem, with some people not getting enough nutrients and vitamins that can result in stunting and permanently reduced cognitive function for small children, while others are eating too much of the wrong thing, resulting in growing obesity rates and a crisis or epidemic of preventable non-communicable diseases that could soon overwhelm African health systems and cost hundreds of billions of dollars to treat. This money shouldn’t be coming out of economies or household incomes, as the region still does not have sufficient incomes or jobs for all people to earn a decent living. Even with economic growth and falling poverty rates, Africa’s youth unemployment rate exceeds 30%, and it is a top priority to generate new jobs. It is in this context, that Africa is importing more than US $35 billion of food each year, sending its money overseas, when it could be supplying itself and creating more income and jobs for its people, creating backward and forward linkages in the economy that stimulate inclusive economic growth. These issues are only getting worse with increasing populations in many parts of the continent and the challenges of climate change.


We need significant transformations in our food systems to achieve Africa’s goals laid out in the Malabo Declaration and the SDGs by 2030. In particular, we need a change to our food systems if African farmers and consumers are both to benefit, all people are going to increase access to quality, affordable, and nutritious food, and agricultural growth is to drive sustained, inclusive economic growth with more jobs for Africa’s youth.


Fortunately, the challenge of feeding Africa’s cities is also an opportunity to address many of the continent’s problems – but Africa must first win the competition to produce for its cities. In the market for African food consumers, African producers are not winning. Cities don’t care where food comes from; they just want the right quality and right price. Right now it’s cheaper to import bottled water from Brussels to Kigali than to bottle it locally. Right now it’s cheaper to grow, process, ship, and truck rice and palm oil from Southeast Asia to West Africa than to put local farmers’ rice and palm oil in the market. It’s cheaper to bring chicken from Rio to Durban than to fully meet the demand for this booming market locally. The African continent has long talked about providing for domestic markets, improving processing and value addition, and import substitution, but the strategy and delivery must be improved. The system is not working for many of Africa’s farmers and micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) who are not competitive past a certain point.  By feeding cities, African countries are able to meet not only urban food security, but also provide a market for agriculture throughout the country and drive inclusive rural development, job creation, and mutual prosperity.  But this will require a major paradigm shift.


Africa needs a shift of mindset to be competitive in feeding cities, while also addressing rural needs. There are tremendous opportunities, if we deliver on an interconnected set of essential priorities. We need to improve small holders’ productivity as it’s impossible to be competitive when these farmers are not growing sufficient quantities or qualities for market needs. We need to enhance processing, packaging, and value addition to meet market standards and appeal to consumer preferences. We need to address the key enablers that affect Africa’s competitiveness, not only in policy and finance, but also in mechanization, digitalization, infrastructure, water, irrigation, logistics, energy, ICT and connectivity, and human capital. In doing this, there is a tremendous opportunity to build up Africa’s SMEs in the Hidden Middle of Africa’s food systems. 


Fortunately, Africa is making exciting strides, and we need to accelerate and scale this transformation to ensure cities serve as our engines of inclusive growth. This transformation includes increased investment into sustainable intensification of crop production to make smallholders competitive. It includes investments into value chain strengthening and efficiency all the way from farm to fork. It includes diversity of investments into agro-processing zones, post-harvest management, wholesale markets, and trade corridors that will diversity product availability and respond to ever-changing consumer demands. Farmers, private sector, and governments are increasingly seeing these opportunities and taking advantage of them. The recent ratification of the African Continental Free Trade Area could serve as a game changer to open new markets across the continent and make intra-regional trade of food more competitive than ever.


At the same time, success with understanding and transforming the food system will require the African agricultural community and whole range of new constituencies to pull together. In particular, it will require the coordination and collaboration between governments, private sector, universities, nongovernmental organisations and civil society, but this agenda should also be top priority for the financial sector, health sector, environmental groups, and beyond. It will also require learning from other models and actors around the world, such as Brazil, China, India, and Vietnam, who have made similar transitions and who are already driving rural and national development through feeding their cities.


Under the leadership of H.E. Paul Kagame, President of the Republic of Rwanda, the AGRF 2020 Summit will be held from September 8-11, 2020 in Kigali, Rwanda. The Summit will be attended by more than 4,000 delegates and high-level dignitaries, including current and former Heads of State and Government; Agriculture and Finance Ministers; Central Bank Governors; eminent leaders of global and regional development institutions; top industry captains from the national, regional, and global private sector; trade and logistics companies; tech leaders and agri-preneurs; and lead representatives of farmer organizations and key non-governmental implementing partners.

At the start of the Decade of Action to achieve the SDGs by 2030, we must constantly reinforce the fact that food is at the center of the future of earth. The way in which we produce, process, and consume food drives our climate, our livelihoods, our nutrition, our environment, and our society.  These food systems are linked intimately with population growth, wellbeing, and our sustainable development agenda for 2030. We must manage the evolution and the tradeoffs, as progress in one part of the system such as feeding all of our people, could otherwise make things worse in areas such as nutrition and environmental degradation. We must seize this opportunity of feeding Africa’s cities to achieve our aspirations. When Africa feeds its cities, it can feed the world and grow the continent.