During the penultimate session of The AGRF 2021 Summit, Citizen TV’s Jeff Koinange was joined by a stellar line-up of senior leaders, brought together to publicly declare their commitments to building resilient food systems and sustainable, inclusive agriculture in Africa.
Opening the Commitments Framework session, Mr. Koinange said: “I’ve learnt the 3 ‘C’s this week: Covid, Conflict, Climate change – these are the things we all have to overcome as a continent.”
The three ‘C’s theme ran throughout the session, with Maura Barry, Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Resilience and Food Security, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), saying:
“We know strides have been made but we all acknowledge that the three Cs have disrupted the growth trajectory. USAID remains committed to help strengthening resilience.
Unified agenda and commitments to the future of food security
“I really want to congratulate AGRF on a successful Dealroom. We’re so encouraged by the unified agenda. We’ve seen important conversations take place that promote food systems transformation.”
The pathway to truly transformed and sustainable food systems brought several key announcements to the table during the session. Ms. Barry gave a teaser to a full announcement planned for the UN Food Systems Summit on 23rd September, 2021, saying:
“We are currently revising our global food security strategy. It will focus on a strong set of commitments that will focus on climate and inclusive development, as well as strengthening resilience.”
Ms. Barry talked passionately about deploying climate-smart technology, mobilising private sector finance, the importance of large-scale food fortification, and working hand-in-hand with scientists to holistically improve food systems. Ms. Barry, and fellow speaker Mr. Dominik Ziller, VP, IFAD, talked about the importance of prioritising women, children, indigenous people, and other marginalized groups.
Hon. Wu Peng, Director General, Dept. of Africa Affairs of the Foreign Ministry, People’s Republic of China, was positive about the rapid development of both China and Africa. Hon. Peng cited that there are at least 120 Chinese agricultural enterprises investing in Africa. He highlighted the recent growth of ecommerce in helping food producers boost income during the pandemic. And he assured the audience that enhancing agricultural cooperation will be one of the top priorities at FOCAC 2021.
“We will encourage China to continue to invest in Africa; to send agriculture experts to Africa. China will be dedicated to working with Africa to fight against natural disasters, increase food production, achieve food security and make new strong contributions to build an even stronger China-Africa community with a shared future.”
Representing the African Development Bank Group, its VP for Agriculture, Human and Social Development, Dr. Beth Dunford, said of one initiative that the financing facility aims to do five big things in Africa:
- Double agricultural productivity
- Build resilience
- Bring greater investment into states that are often perceived as too risky
- Unlock more private investment in agriculture
- Build infrastructure & policy environment needed for resilient food systems.
Dr. Dunford added: “We’re already setting targets for what the financing facility for Food & Nutrition Africa could achieve. We expect it to mobilise $1bn from partners, double yields or more in nine commodities, produce 100 megatons of food, feeding 200m more Africa, that’s 80% of the continent’s chronically hungry.”
The future of sustainable food and energy systems are inextricably linked
Adding another dimension to the discussion, Dr. Roy Steiner, MD of Food Initiatives at The Rockefeller Foundation, admitted: “We are not going to be able to achieve these goals of having a food system that’s equitable, generative and nourishing if we don’t end the climate crisis by bringing renewable energy to the near 1bn people living without access to energy globally, 573m of those live in Sub-Saharan Africa.”
Startling numbers, which Dr. Steiner insisted could only be reduced by acknowledging that the future of food and energy systems are inseparable:
“To address this, we are launching a global energy alliance that will catalyse a $1bn investment. $500m from The Rockefeller Foundation and $500m from the IKEA Foundation. It really aims to bring 1bn people renewable energy, reduce 1bn tons of greenhouse gas and attain 100% gains in productivity.”
Big numbers kept coming, with Mr. Dominik Ziller, IFAD’s Vice President, confirming that they had already directed $175m to smallholder farmers and they aim to mobilise another $500m in the coming years.
GDP contribution and investment inextricably linked
In a moment of brutal honesty, Dr. James Mwangi, CEO, Equity Group Holdings admitted that: “If we look at SDGs, they will not be achieved unless we transform agriculture.”
He went on to outline that Equity Group Holdings’ comment is:
“To appreciate agriculture and resource it to the same level that it contributes to the GDP of the African continent. We have made a bold commitment that Equity will allocate 30% of all its levy to agriculture.”
Reiterating a messaging that has been prevalent across The AGRF 2021 Summit, Mr. Mwangi said we need to make agriculture attractive for young people because no one can transform agriculture alone. And we need to do this by making agriculture part of a bigger ecosystem.
“We have been lobbying the government a lot to try and get agriculture mainstream sector. Government programs shouldn’t be seen as socio interventions, but as investment programs that allow private sector capital to throw in. We can’t be able to succeed without promoting trade; cross-border trade is a huge area of focus.”
Digitising the agricultural value chain and using agriculture to decarbonise the planet
Digitisation is a critical part of food systems resilience. According to Mr. Mwangi, this area needs more investment, to allow agriculture to be fully integrated with the lead economy.
In a frank answer to Mr. Koinange’s question: “Are we walking the path?” Mr. Mwangi admitted that: “The paradox that we have talked about – that we have 60% of the world’s arable farmland and then we are living in food deficits – would not be happening if we were doing well and walking the path.”
Jai Shroff, CEO, UPL Ltd agreed: “At UPL we are very committed to transforming the agriculture sector to be more resilient. Resilience in agriculture can come through tech, helping farmers to become more resilient. The world is focused on decarbonising, agriculture is one of those tools that can actually be used to decarbonise the world.”
Talking in the same vein as Dr. Steiner, Mr. Shroff asked why we can’t incentivise the food system to follow regenerative practices, saying this is common practice in things like electric cars and solar panels.
In the closing remarks, H.E. Lionel Zinsou, former Prime Minister of Benin and the Founder of SouthBridge, brought some stark numbers to the table:
“What is the part of the credit of the pot in Benin that goes to agriculture? 2%. What is the share of agriculture to GDP? 27%. What is the active population employed in ag.? 50%.”
He pointed out that this is unsustainable. And that if we want sustainable agriculture, those figures have to be dramatically changed. He applauded the consistent, systemic, value chain approach of AGRA.
Fellow former Head of State, former Ethiopian Prime Minister, H.E. Hailemariam Dessalegn, closed the session, saying: “AGRA’s commitment to 2030 is essential. In our ambition to achieving resilient and food secure Africa, the continent requires tested and scalable transformation assets that will fast track the reduction of hunger and poverty.”
“To feed our diversity (over 1000 tribes), we cannot apply one simple solution. The challenge is complex and this requires investments and concerted efforts in a collaborative, measurable way.”
He urged partners to join AGRA, who is committed to transforming agricultural sustainability, and looking to enhance productivity and innovation capacity.
Onwards to the UN Food Systems Summit.