Sep 10, 2021 | Blog

AGRF 2021 Summit Ends with Plea for Sustainable and Resilient Food Systems

After four days of active engagement around the creation of resilient and sustainable food systems in Africa, the AGRF 2021 Summit came to an end on the evening of Friday September 10, 2021.

At the closing ceremony, various leaders from across Africa appealed for the participation of all stakeholders in the pursuit of a food systems transformation that will increase food security and income for all in the continent.

Notably, Lucy Muchoki, the Chief Executive of the Pan-African Agribusiness and Agroindustry Consortium, reiterated that the economic transformation of the continent will be led by its inhabitants, even as she appealed for support from development partners.

Her sentiments were supported by Hon. Dr. Hadiza Sabuwa Balarabe, the Deputy Governor of Nigeria’s Kaduna State, who noted the need for provoking youth participation in agricultural and food systems transformation.

“It has been difficult to get youth attracted to agriculture but we are working to make farming exciting, including through digital agriculture technology,” she said, citing the effort her government is making.

Meanwhile, Dr. Godfrey Bahiigwa, the Director of Agriculture and Rural Development at African Union Commission, announced that Africa had attained a common position for submission to the UN Food Systems Summit (UN FSS) in New York starting September 23. 

The UN FSS will bring together the world’s leaders in reviewing the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

“The Africa common position is rich, it has 43 game changing proposals, and if fully implemented will help to transform Africa’s food systems and make them resilient.

“For Africa, in tracking the commitments of the UN FSS that our members will adopt, we shall be using the CAADP Biennial Review Report,” he said.

In his closing remarks, H.E. Hailemariam Desalegn, Chair of the AGRA Board, hailed the AGRF 2021 Summit as a historical event that was attended by a record number of heads of state, ministers, heads of development organizations, business people and farmers.

As confirmed by Jennifer Baarn, the acting Managing Director of the AGRF, in the four days of the AGRF Summit 4000 government officials, investors and entrepreneurs from 89 countries engaged in the Agribusiness Dealroom, where USD 5.1 of investment needs were presented.

Various awards were also presented during the event, including the Africa Food Prize, the GoGettaz Agripreneur Prize and the Value4Her Women Agripreneur of the Year Award (WAYA).

From Nairobi, Kenya, the AGRF Summit goes to Kigali, Rwanda, for 2022 – the official home of the annual event.

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Launch of the 2021 Africa Agriculture Trade Monitor Report (AATM)

Moderating the launch of the AATM today during the AGRF 2021, was Ms. Sara Mbago-Bhunu, Director, East and Southern Africa Division, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). She noted that the 2021 Africa Agriculture Trade Monitor (AATM) Report analyzes continental and regional trends in African agricultural trade flows and policies.

After the short brief, she invited Dr. Godfrey Bahiigwa, Director, Agriculture & Rural Economy and Agriculture, African Union Commission, Ethiopia, to give his opening remarks. In his statement he noted,

“There is need for better trade data to support AFCTA agenda and to combat the adverse effects of COVID-19 pandemic. The AATM report addresses challenges in African agriculture trade, and provides findings and opportunities for intra-trade activities.”

Another key opening remark was given by Dr. James Oehmke, Acting Division Chief, Bureau for Resilience and Food Security, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). He said that USAID welcomes and supports the AFCTA to significantly boost intra-African trade, the launch of the AATM is extremely timely to inform the growth of the continent in addressing key challenges.”


The baton was passed to Dr. Ousmane Badiane
, Executive Chairperson, AKADEMIYA 2063, Senegal, who gave highlights of the report touching keenly on various points, such as: Africa’s position in global markets, competitiveness in African exports, diversification of traded products, degree of value addition in traded goods and answering if COVID-19 has affected trade.

Key pointers indicated that exports have been dominated by cocoa, tobacco, coffee and seed oil, hence the need to be boosted.

“Trade in African markets is getting more competitive, especially around processed goods. There is also diversification and sophistication of Africa exports, although we have only managed a few higher value goods,” he said.

In his presentation he also noted that Intra-African trade was highest in 2013 but the trend dropped greatly in the following years to date, hence still operating below potential. He warned, 50% of countries have closed their borders and this has greatly impacted trade, and advised that removing border restrictions should be removed to grow.

Next to speak was Vanessa Adams, VP Strategic Partnerships and COP PIATA at AGRA— Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, who stated that there is an ability for coalition of the willing in Africa on the ACFTA and there are great efforts in addressing barriers to trade and greenline procedures.

“We continue to be optimistic in AGRA and I encourage more sharing of realtime data,” she said. In completing her remarks she went on to appreciate the efforts of all partners who took part in this initiative and declared the AATM report officially launched.

There were reactions and additions from key panelists, such as Antoine Kajangwe, Ministry of Trade and Investments, Rwanda, whom, in giving a country example, said: “In Rwanda, we are seeing more exports on flowers, fruits, and maize, among other agricultural products. Majority of trade is on the border between Rwanda and the DRC, where 90,000 informal traders engage in trade in agricultural commodities; the majority of these are women, at 74%.”

Dr. Johan Swinnen, Director General, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) & Global Director, Systems Transformation, CGIAR, USA also said: “This report highlights key data that can inform policymakers to make informed decisions on policy regulations in the different countries, we need to continue to collect data.”

Representing the African Continental Free Trade Area was Peter Joy Sewornoo of AFCTA Secretariat, who said: “The AfCFTA has 44 country members who signed the agreement. In January 2021, we started trading and we have signed on 28 tariffs so far, out of the rendered 42. We are at 86% of agreed goods of quality.”

Adding on was Dr. Maximo Torero Cullen, Chief Economist, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Italy, who indicated that there is a huge window to increase and improve the level of exports. He reminded everyone that the value of agri-food declined from 4% in 2011 to around 1.7% in 2017, which indicates a big problem.

“Intra-regional trade needs to be accelerated by various actions among them providing value block chains and also improving on quality of food,” he said.

 “AATM is a wide resource to lobby stronger for the trade agenda to improve food systems and reduce poverty,” Dr. Heike Hoeffler, Project Lead, Agricultural Trade, Agribusiness, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), Germany, said in closing.

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A transformation of trade in Africa

Economic transformation is at the center of Africa’s economic development as it continues to experience unprecedented population growth.

The implementation of knee-jerk and uncoordinated government policies and regulations in food markets are in part due to lack of credible evidence, data and market information systems that provide governments with an indication of the status of the market, including the volumes of food commodities available in the market, as well as the prevailing market prices. Regional trade is a pathway for Africa’s recovery and can be a key driver in building resilient food systems that will be an enabler and important engine for sustainable economic growth.

AGRA and Partnership for Inclusive Agricultural Transformation in Africa (PIATA) partners are re-focusing their efforts on addressing these challenges. The Regional Food Balance Sheet (RFBS) initiative is a collaborative and multi-stakeholder engagement. It includes participation from a range of analytical and technology partners to provide data and forecasts on crop production, cross-border trade, input supply, data aggregation, and dashboard development.

To kick off this very pertinent discussion was moderator Mr. Jonathan Said, Head of Inclusive Growth and Private-Sector Development Practice, Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. He invited Hon. Lobin Lowe, Minister of Agriculture, Malawi, to give a keynote address.

“Agriculture is the engine for Malawi economy and for too long Malawi had coffee as a key export. However, we have made it an agenda to commercialize key value chains, such as soya beans, groundnuts, maize, and legumes among others.

“Over 4m farmers are involved in these value chains,” he said.

He indicated further that a functional agricultural sector is very important in Malawi. His ministry has created various programs, such as an affordable input program, which subsidizes input cost for all 3.7million farmers who are covered.

Next up was Dr. Jewel Bronaugh, Deputy Secretary, US Department of Agriculture, USA, who applauded AGRA for the great partnership with the United States towards efforts in supporting capacity building of farmer organizations to create more sustainable, inclusive and resilient food systems.

“Barriers to trade are reduced through adoption of risk-based approaches in regulatory frameworks, creating an enabling environment for intra-African and US-African agricultural trade. We see the harmonization of sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards as a lynchpin to growing regional trade,” she said.

“We need to move up in the value chain from dealing with raw materials to processing because we will sell a higher value product,” said Dr. Bright Okogu, Chief of Staff to the Director General, World Trade Organization. He added that World Trade Organization will be giving lots of support to standardization and working with farmers to upgrade the quality of food produced.

Mr. Melvin Spreij, Head, Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF) World Trade Organization added on that STDF provides seed funding to finance sustainable agriculture and a lot of our funding has been directed to Africa.

In the same breath, Ms. Fatma Ben Rejeb, Chief Executive Officer, Pan African Farmer’s Organization, said:“We need to harmonize efforts. At PAFO, we have over 50 countries working with us so we need to work together to mitigate key challenges faced in agriculture to make the right investments that will benefit farmers in the continent.”

The second panel session was moderated by Dr. Nalishebo Meebelo, the senior program coordinator, The Regional Network of Agricultural Policy Research Institutes (ReNAPRI). Dr. Meebelo was leading panelists through an in-depth discussion into building strong food systems through inclusive data sharing.

“We implore the government to work with us as the private sector to provide certificates of conformity to certified and accredited companies to test products in a bid to hasten the process of ascertaining the quality of products in the market,” stated Mr. Gerald Masila, Executive Director, Eastern Africa Grain Council, Kenya, as he set the scene for the second session.

In her keynote address, H.E Chileshe Kapwepwe, Secretary General, COMESA, Zambia, said: “Data is necessary to address complex occurrences in the continent. Gaps in the food sector have left many countries unable to address the challenges faced due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Next on was Hon. Herbert Krapa, Deputy Minister, International Trade, Ghana, who spoke to his country’s barrier mitigations to trade. He passionately indicated that strong food systems will help Ghana mitigate nutritional needs, especially for women and children who are most vulnerable.

“The government should be accountable to ensure no one is left behind, we have carried out a stakeholder analysis to ensure comprehensive data to improve our food systems,” he said.

Dr. Ade Freeman, Africa Regional Program Leader, Regional Office for Africa Support, also added that: “for rapid improvement assessment is necessary to withstand the shocks and stresses to food systems. FAO will work with partners to catalyse the objectives of the RFB’s initiatives in building quality and continuity in data collation to ensure that together we build strong food systems.

To delve deeper into this topic on behalf of the donor community, Mr. Mansoor Ahmad, Team Lead, Africa Agribusiness Investment & Regional Food Trade, FCDO, said: “We need to have a mindset shift in how to contextualize and to conceptualize food systems, the role of farmers in the supply chain is not a social role but is for economic opulence of the continent.”

To close off remarks was Dr. Beth Dunford, Vice President, African Development Bank, who said: “Lack of data deters private investors as they cannot appreciate the value of trade in the agricultural food systems in Africa and hence we teamed up with FAO to provide data profiles in countries such as Rwanda among others to provide high-end data for key indicators towards greater investors.”

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Walking the Path: Commitments Framework

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.

China-Africa development

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:

  1. Double agricultural productivity
  2. Build resilience
  3. Bring greater investment into states that are often perceived as too risky
  4. Unlock more private investment in agriculture
  5. 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.

Closing remarks

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.

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Ecosystem Development Framework (EDF): Enabling youth through their agripreneurship journey and participation in the food systems.

Generation Africa is a partnership initiative that strengthens the ecosystem for youth entrepreneurs in the agri-food sector across the continent.

Making agriculture more attractive to young farmers and creating decent employment opportunities in rural areas could reverse the migration of young people to cities and abroad. Youth migration to urban centres increases the burden on African cities and leads to the proliferation of slums. Generation Africa looks at what needs to be done to support young people to become agripreneurs across Africa and make the agricultural value chain more attractive in order to curtail ‘distress migration’. This will also unlock the potential of the sector in providing decent employment and improved livelihoods by encouraging and increasing youth participation in agribusiness as self-employed and employers of fellow young people.

The Ecosystem Development Framework (EDF) initiative will help countries shift from information and studies to a framework approach to strengthen the collaboration and coordination of youth support. This is our pathway to recovery, a collaborative network of over 40 organisations and a movement that is building across the continent. Generation Africa is at the vanguard and needs young, dynamic agripreneurs to come forward in the knowledge they will be supported.

Senegal is running an experiment that brings together intelligence to identify gaps for governments to fill and strengthen ecosystems for agri-food entrepreneurs. It provides a framework to guide youth, bring together networking, success stories, policies, funding options, training and capacity building, knowledge sharing and innovation. By 2030 more than 300,000 young job seekers will enter the labour market annually. Agrifood market systems have the potential to provide employment opportunities for young job seekers in Senegal and 50% of youth seek agriculture jobs.

USAID is committed to locally owned, locally managed African businesses and the young must be part of them and embrace systems thinking. USAID delivers inclusive and sustainable market development, but needs to be more intentional about ensuring equality. Women have traditionally been the focus of this, and now we need to expand that to include the young. For that to happen there has to be intentionality and government must play a role.

Eric Onchanga, Founder of IrriHub, Youth GoGettaz, questions why all entrepreneurs cite finance as their biggest problem. He thinks there are more important things and that if we are to make agribusiness attractive to young people we need a strong ecosystem, and that requires three things: 1) mentorship 2) enabling government policies and 3) partnerships among agri-preneurs to support each other and spread best practice.

Edson Mpyisi, Chief Financial Economist/Coordinator, Enable Youth – African Development Bank (AfDB) supports an initiative aimed at young agripreneurs. The bank has traditionally focused on big business, but they are developing a new approach of public-private cooperation in the agriculture sector. Enable Youth is a broad programme with no assumption that after support is provided, financing will follow. A dedicated finance project partners with local institutions to enhance the bank’s limited resources by working with other institutions to leverage what they already have. This provides increased flexibility, including preferential rates for start-ups and tailored, guaranteed instruments.

Digital initiatives are also important, and they don’t have to be complicated. One of the most simple but effective interventions is WhatsApp groups that spread information. These can also address a cultural hesitation to fail and encourage people to take more risk by sharing stories and experiences and embracing failure.

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AGRF Panelists Show How Africa Can Ride on Agricultural Technologies for Food Systems Transformation

While the COVID-19 pandemic complicated the situation for farmers in various ways, it positively invited attention to the need for digital technologies in driving Africa’s food system transformation.

This was as farmers found new connections to input suppliers and markets using various digital tools. Consequently, the continent witnessed a rapid integration of digital and innovative technologies within every stage of the agricultural value-chain, all in just two years.

Recognizing the need to build on this digital transformation opportunity, innovators, researchers and policy makers met at an AGRF 2021 summit session on Friday September 10, 2021 to discuss the sustainability of emerging digital solutions for African agriculture problems.

Kicking off the conversation, Maura Barry, Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Resilience and Food Security at USAID, said that the full potential of digitalization in agriculture could be realized earlier through investments in infrastructure development and farmer education.

“In some emerging economies, the adoption of even basic digital tools is low due to a low digital technology coverage and digital literacy,” she said, adding that these gaps must be filled for an increased adoption of digital innovations in agriculture.

Ms. Barry went on to note that even more investments are required to accelerate the uptake of digital technologies by women agripreneurs in emerging economies, who contribute greatly to food system transformation objectives, but are often marginalized.

“Women [in emerging economies] are 20% less likely [than men] to own a smartphone, and 43% less likely to engage online, and this has real consequences for their families and for food production. This is as research shows that access to digital finance services strengthens women’s household decision-making power and increases their labour force participation,” she said.

Innovators on the panel appealed to both government and private sector players to commit resources to supporting startup enterprises in the agri-business space.

“An increase in digital literacy can only take place once access is increased…we invite governments, private sector players to invest in agri-tech SMEs for long-term socio-economic benefits,” said Dexter Tangocci, co-founder, CTO and Geo-spatial analyst of Integrated Aerial Systems.

E-Soko CEO, Daniel Asare-Kyei, added that more investments are required in startups that increase the access to agricultural information by farmers.

“There is a rare race of farmers getting competitive information from different sources. As such, there is a need to promote media amongst other technology startups,” he said.

Fellow speakers at the session, from Mercy Corps, Safaricom, Yara, CTA, Microsoft, McGill University, FAO, KALRO and the Ethiopia’s Agriculture Transformation Agency (ATA), highlighted the roles of their different organizations in the promotion of digital agriculture objectives in Africa.

Sep 9, 2021 | Blog

Elders Council

The Elders Council brings together African Former Heads of State and Government willing to support the continent’s efforts in achieving the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) or Malabo declaration and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) commitments. This year’s elder’s council is a premier effort within AGRF that was moderated by H.E. Hailemariam Dessalegn, Former Prime Minister of Ethiopia and AGRA Board Chairperson and AGRF Partners Group Chair.

African leaders recognize the critical role that agriculture plays in economic transformation and development. Unfortunately, current numbers and results show that the continent is still not on track to achieve the UN-SDGs by 2030 (especially SDGs 1, 2 & 3). Close to 300 million Africans are still going to bed hungry, and these numbers are increasing because of cycles of droughts and floods and related pests damage, all resulting from climate change. And now, Covid-19 has thrown many people out of jobs and increasing numbers find themselves with food insecurity.

To start off the session was a keynote address by H.E. Hailemariam Dessalegn, who stated that with nine years left to achieve the SDGs, our strength lies with UBUNTU, the power of unity. “The elders council within AGRF will play a key role to ensure that former leaders draw a lot of lessons from their tenure and continue to hold each other accountable to grow agriculture in our continent,” he added.

To start off the panel discussion was H.E. Dr. Jakaya M. Kikwete, Former President of the United Republic of Tanzania who shared that in Tanzania, there is always fear that we may sell everything to other countries and end up with nothing for ourselves so naturally we impose export bans, but it should not be the case. “We need to have talks with other neighboring countries to promote trade, let us look at shortages as opportunities to intra-trade,” he quipped. He equally shared an experience he had in Indonesia as a foreign prime minister citing, “I realized they have built better infrastructure like roads and canal irrigation with access to water, high yielding seed, fertilizers, pesticides, skilled farmers who are a big input to better productivity and leverage science.” He urged that it is important to replicate these actions so that we achieve improved food systems and provide enough food to our continent.

Next up was H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Former President of Liberia who began by noting that Africa and particularly Liberia her country, hasn’t yet been able to solve the problem of food insecurity. “Our agricultural systems and farmers have faced serious difficulties especially since 2014 when the country was greatly hit by Ebola,” she added. She did indicate that there are various efforts that have been put in place to counter these harsh effects. “More efficacy is needed for freedom of movement in between borders to allow for share of resources, learnings and trading,” she said. In answering the query posed on how to improve support to women as change agents and drivers of progress, she was quick to applaud Tanzania for electing a female President which has filled a void in Africa by appointing women in executive positions. She quickly warned however that if we continue at this pace we won’t meet gender equality to get more women voices for development. As a champion for women, she finalized by saying, “I have established a center for women development with 30 women so far, we give them larger profiles to share experiences with fellow women in executive positions who serve as mentors.

“In Benin, we have not supported agriculture and farmers despite the fact that it contributes 37% of GDP in the economy,” said H.E. Lionel Zinsou, Former Prime Minister of Benin who was next to speak. He passionately noted that indeed the continent needs money to develop but still needs political will in a way that leaders recognize the true importance of agriculture. He urged that Africa needs working capital because it the lesser financed continent, it is also less indebted and hence needs the money for micro-finances, banking systems or even subsidies as there is no development without access to money. On matters of trade he added, “We do not need to be protected from our neighbors, we need to cooperate with our neighbors and share resources to boost agriculture and to grow our continent.”

In addressing what leaders in African countries need to do differently to create a meaningful change, H.E. Olusegun Obasanjo, Former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria said that at the leadership level our country policies must be in tandem with what is happening on the ground with the farmers. “The ministry of agriculture works in Silos, they must broaden their knowledge of what smallholder farmers want and learn the challenges,” he added. In his final remark as advice to African leaders he advised that a little knowledge of economics is good for our leaders, simple things like learning of demand and supply.

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Insights: Are we Walking the Path to Change?

Pathways to recovery and resilient food systems have been the focus of this year’s AGRF, and in the last session of day three a panel were asked if we are walking the path to change.

There was some dissent about whether we are currently on the right track. Dr. Usha Zehr, Director and Chief Technology Officer, MAHYCO thought yes, but that the needle is moving too slowly and we need to pick up the pace. The Malabo Declaration said we would end hunger by 2025, but it’s already 2021 and we are nowhere near that goal. Although a brilliant document, not just promising an end to hunger, but electricity for all, and many other targets, it is all still just on paper. Things are definitely happening too slowly, and there is still a big difference between what is said and what is done. The current pandemic as an example. Everyone understands the need for vaccination and we have the capability to manufacture vaccines locally, so why has the intellectual property issue not been resolved?

The view of the private sector is that the issues have been overcomplicated. There were clear commitments in the Malabo declaration, yet here we are talking about food systems, using unnecessarily sophisticated talk, when we should really be heading back to basics and returning to the root of the problem.  

Certainly it was agreed we should stop talking about Africa when it’s a continent of 54 different countries, not just one place. And because of that, there can’t be just one solution. Humans are one out of 8.7 million species and that needs millions of solutions, not just one. To that end a resilient food system has to be diversified at every stage. There is no golden solution because people don’t live in silos, they live in the real world, and they probably don’t want to hear about food systems, rather what actually needs to be done – starting by moving from paper to action.

Just like in telecoms – Africa has the opportunity to leapfrog whole stages in agriculture, and there is new thinking that value add should be closer to the source, not the consumer, as it is with cacao. The continent needs to start capitalising on the good things it has going for it –  incredible resources like solar and wind that can power things like irrigation systems. But its most valuable resource is the youth of the population, eager to work and eager to innovate. The value chain is capable of absorbing them, but to really make a difference we need to go beyond the value chain and create an environment where our young people can create their own SMEs. For that they need public/private partnership, because nobody can go it alone. The private sector has so much knowledge, yet this is often lost when scientists go back to the West to further their careers – we need them here to train our young farmers, because we all know agriculture can transform Africa.

The value chain also needs to focus on infrastructure. A bumper tomato harvest means the price drops so low farmers can’t give them away, yet if there was the necessary infrastructure they could be turned into ketchup or tinned and the farmer receive a portion of the added value. At the moment farmers face the dilemma of producing too much and watching prices plummet, or producing too little and starving. Government must support farmers to avoid this, and as they do, stop propping up the staples when there are more nutritious alternatives.

Agriculture could be the biggest positive contributor to tackling global warming, yet no government is considering the smallholder farmers’ contribution when tackling carbon emissions and because of that that they don’t participate. Africa could take the lead on this, but farmers aren’t brought to the table. If governments listened to what they are saying, then they might start formulating the right policies.

Finally it was agreed that sustainability has to stop being an afterthought and be put firmly at the core of business thinking. It needs to become the starting point, not the end point, and  if what we’re planning doesn’t help climate change then we shouldn’t even be thinking about doing it.

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Scientists: Africa’s diets must change for better health and stable environment

Recent research has linked the world’s changing diets to global warming and other adverse effects on the environment. Indeed, a special report commissioned by the United Nations includes a policy recommendation to reduce meat consumption, while presenting plant-based diets as an important for mitigating climate change.

To address the importance of sustainable diets in improving human health and reducing negative environmental impacts, a plenary session at the AGRF 2021 Summit in Nairobi, Kenya, brought together influential leaders from the world of science in discussions. The panel featured individuals specializing in food security, nutrition, climate change, agroforestry and rural development, with the conversation addressing the opportunities in prioritizing nutritious food production and consumption.

Giving a keynote address, Dr. Gunhild Stordalen, the Founder and Executive Chair of the EAT Forum, appealed for countries to review their food systems, noting that without immediate action the world is bound to suffer pandemics of an even greater scale than COVID-19.

Dr. Stordalen further used the opportunity to invite participants to the UN Food Systems Summit (UN FSS) in New York from September 23, 2021. The UN FSS will bring together world leaders to review the progress towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

“Thanks to the UN Food Systems process, it is now more viably understood that our food systems must be transformed for the sake of our people and that of our planet,” she said.

Fellow panelist Dr. Tony Simons, the Director General of CIFOR-ICRAF, expressed optimism that with the right guidance on production and consumption, people in Africa could adapt their food systems to leave little damage on the world.

Meanwhile, Prof. Sheryl Hendriks, the director of the Institute for Food Nutrition and Wellbeing at the University of Pretoria, reiterated the need for urgency in transforming Africa’s food systems for both health and environmental benefits.

“It is up to us in Africa and our African governments to decide and act on the kind of transition we want for our food systems,” she said.

Gerda Verburg, the UN Assistant Secretary-General and SUN Movement Coordinator, summed up the session with her excitement at the shift from just focusing on an increase in agricultural production to taking into account nutritional concerns.

“I am extremely happy that AGRA is putting nutrition front and center; it’s no longer about just increasing yield or productivity, it is about smart investment in agriculture and food production that is preventing malnutrition,” she said.

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Food Systems and Nutrition in Africa

The high cost of healthy diets and persistently high levels of poverty and income inequality continue to keep healthy diets out of reach for around 3 billion people. Although nutrition targets are far from being met, some African countries are working towards improving access to healthy diets. In addition, there are promising innovations under way in the private sector to produce and make available more nutritious foods to the African general public. 

These statistics, coupled with some promise of change currently being accomplished in the continent, led the way to further discussion during the Food Systems & Nutrition session at AGRF 2021 (Thurs 9th Sept). Moderated by Ms. Betty Kibaara, Director, Food Initiative, The Rockefeller Foundation, the bullseye to the session was to unearth Africa’s solutions towards safe and nutritious food for all.

To kick it off was a bold keynote address by Mrs. Nane Annan, Board Member & Nutrition Advocate, Kofi Annan Foundation, who stated that it is encouraging to see bio-fortified crops being grown more in Africa.

“Due to the adverse effects of COVID-19, let us not forget that there is a tragedy of a child not reaching their food nutrition potential hence suffering from malnutrition,” she quickly reminded.

As a long-time advocate for the orange-fleshed sweet potato, she added: “Earlier on my husband (Kofi Annan) and I attended seven various interventions in Ghana, where we enjoyed orange-fleshed sweet potatoes savory dishes and love it even more that it is a fortified crop and is non-GMO, hence our interventions in various countries with this crop.”

Mr. Larry Umunna, Regional Director West Africa Technoserve kicked off the first panel discussion.

“Large scale food fortification has had serious challenges with compliance. With support from the Gates Foundation, we focused on providing technical support like skills training and data monitoring supporting food fortification. To date, over 4M tonnes of adequately fortified food has so far been produced in Africa, thanks to such interventions.”

Throwing in a wise African proverb – ‘you cannot tell a hungry child that we ate yesterday’ – was Ms. Patience Mukweza, Operations Executive, Food Solutions, a subsidiary of Beams & Rays Packaging, Zimbabwe.

“People tend to shun away from traditional foods. For example, baked beans are good though not used as breakfast in Africa but used as radish eaten as food with other condiments such as rice, this means we need to be culturally sensitive in food production to maintain highly nutritious foods that are traditional.”

Dr. Dorothy Nakimbugwe, Director, Nutreal Ltd & Associate Professor, Department of Food Technology & Nutrition, Makerere University, Uganda, also contributed to the question of what are effective solutions to lowering the cost of a healthy diet.

She indicated that we have to become efficient in addressing the bottlenecks and leakages that are causing both qualitative and quantitative losses of food as it makes more food available and makes it more affordable. “Supporting farmers to become more efficient in agriculture will boost the quality of food and will improve productivity,” she said.

To be able to ‘persuade’ commercial food companies and retailers to focus on marketing sustainable healthy foods is not a walk in the park. Ms. Tei Mukunya Oundo, Chief Executive Officer, Nature Lock, Kenya, in addressing this, said that Nature Lock is involved in production and marketing of naturally dried food products through preserving fresh produce naturally into tasty, nutritious and affordable foods for all, right at the source.

“The thing that sets us apart is the ability to scale down our drying technology to suit the smallholder farmers and meeting them where they are for produce. We need to challenge retailers to promote  familiarity and acceptance of heathy foods by the consumer enough to earn us a billboard next to KFC,” she said.

“Due to the partnership that we developed with Heifer International, the Hatching Hope Program strengthens a sustainable and fragmented value chain in poultry production, whose demand keeps growing in Kenya,” said Ms. Isabel Dimitrov, Manager, Corporate Responsibility and Community Engagement Lead for Europe, Middle East & Africa, Cargill.

Ms. Lauren Landis, Representative and Country Director, World Food Programme, Kenya Country Office, gave a word of caution that it’s important to understand then inform people on what healthy food is, and how we define that.

Closing remarks came from Nutreal Ltd’s Dr. Dorothy Nakimbugwe: “Once kids in schools are convinced to adopt more nutritious foods, parents follow. Schools serve as pathways for information and help to incorporate more nutritious school feeding.”