Sep 8, 2022 | Blog

Plenary – Council of the Wise

For only the second time in history following the inaugural event last year The Council of the Wise and Elders this morning brought together some of the foremost African leaders and former Heads of State and Government. The council have all lined up behind the promise of supporting initiatives and actions around the continent towards achieving inclusive agriculture and food systems transformation as well as the SDGs commitments. The Council of the Wise is a vision of continuous engagement of leaders across the year, taking advantage of key moments to build and strengthen a common voice and position to deliver an Africa agenda. The Council gives an opportunity for these leaders to bring their considerable experience as former Heads of State and Government to share their insights, review progress, trigger action and support activity.

The session began with the moderator Aggie Konde, Vice President, AGRA setting out the agenda for the day before handing over to Ms. Jennifer Baarn, Managing Director, AGRF for welcome remarks who expressed her gratitude for being in the presence of ‘so many decades of experience.’

Mr. Maximo Torero, Chief Economist, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations was then introduced to the stage as the Keynote speaker who cautioned against what the world would continue to look like if change wasn’t ambitiously pushed, his speech, ‘Our Future with Business as Usual’ whilst sobering struck a positive note in terms of what could be done and was met with enthusiasm from the attendees.

He highlighted the many issues that the continent still faces, ‘Africa is facing overlapping crises which are drivers of the current food and nutrition trends. We need to address the emergency situation of the increase in the food import bill.’  But he also offered solutions, ‘it’s not simply that investment and higher spending is necessary but how best to spend that money’. To embrace the considerable challenges and turn them into opportunities ‘we need to innovate, the way we work with the government, all the systems are interlinked.’

He went on to outline how the current approach to global food systems requires a shift from business as usual to a more calculated and coordinated approach towards building a resilient and sustainable system for humanity and the planet. Recognizing that food systems are big drivers of greenhouse emissions, they also provide an opportunity to innovate with great solutions and exciting pathways moving forward, both for mitigation and adaptation.

Currently African food systems are failing to deliver healthy diets to all and remain a major challenge to environmental sustainability. Healthy diets demand a systems approach that acknowledges the central role and responsibility of different actors and stakeholders across the world, working collaboratively across other key systems to provide better diets for all, while also sustaining the planet for future generations.

Africa can achieve a resilient and sustainable food system through innovation in technology, science and policies tailored to address the needs of countries at a contextual level. The warning was stark however Africa must act now and change the narrative of a hungry continent to becoming one that is food secured, resilient to shocks and environmentally sustainable.

Following the stimulating and though provoking keynote address there followed an engaging panel discussion discussing not just how the continent had fared in the year since the summit in Kenya but what must happen in the coming year. 

H.E. Hailemariam Desalegn, Chair, AGRF Partners Group and Former Prime Minister, Ethiopia began with opening remarks and spoke about internal conflicts and how whilst it would be easy to blame the Ukraine conflict they could not ignore the issues on their own doorstep. However, he did express confidence that they could ‘overcome hunger and create opportunities for the young’. He later went on to throw down the gauntlet, ‘I would like to challenge us to share insights that address the challenges that smallholder farmers face. I implore us to work together.’

Joining the panel remotely H.E. Ibrahim Hassane Mayaki, Former Prime Minister, Niger picked up that thread and asked what can we do differently. He encouraged greater inter African trade citing it as being fundamental to success, ‘Trading better internally we have a greater weight in terms of a global trading influence.’ He cited a lack of political will rather than technical issues as being the obstacle to this progress, ‘The technical tools are there, the improvement needs to come from governance.’

H.E. Lionel Zinsou, Former Prime Minister, Benin continued and focused on the growth they had accomplished in the last half a decade and encouraged the need to go further, faster. From inheriting an unviable continent in 1960 where the expected life span in some areas was as low as 28, the continent has made huge leaps forward but as Maximo Torero noted, ‘progress has stalled.’

The final thoughts went to H.E. Hailemariam Desalegn who spoke about the need to ‘relinquish national sovereignty in favour of regional sovereignty’ which would be to the benefit of many.  

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Accelerating Climate Action through Food Systems Part I

Kicking off Day 2 of the summit this exciting session looked to address the topic of accelerating climate action through food systems – both from a strategic/policy driven position and from a regenerative/hands on technical perspective. The Speakers sought to explore what could be done to mitigate the risks of climate change through policies, action and investment. What followed was an insightful and thorough discussion about how the farming community can move to resilience farming by embracing regenerative agriculture to promote increased soil health, production and climate change driven agricultural development.

Ms. Barbara Stinton,President of The World Food Prize Foundation began by offering some background and context for the session. The state of the Climate Africa (2020) report highlighted that Africa is at an inflection point: The compounded impact of political instability, the pandemic, pest outbreaks and economic crises, all of which are exacerbated by the impacts of climate variability, were the key drivers in a significant increase in food insecurity. The report suggested that most African countries will enter unprecedentedly hot climates earlier this century than the generally wealthier, higher latitude countries, thus highlighting the urgency for adaptation measures. She praised the GoGettaz finals from the previous day, highlighting the positive work being done by the youth to overcome the challenges the continent is facing. She went on to explain the role The World Food Prize Foundation plays in rewarding this innovation, ‘Each year we recognize tremendous innovators… these people have enabled large numbers of people to escape hunger. We face an urgent need for action now. Accelerate resilient food systems and elevate exceptional achievement in food security.’

The primary objective of the morning’s session was to exchange thinking, best practice and policy dimension. The hope being that through the free exchange of ideas policy makers and thinkers can contribute to climate change adaptation, resilience building and assess investment opportunities that can secure climate-resilient development in Africa, including climate smart agriculture, hydrometeorological infrastructure and early warning systems to prepare for escalating high-impact events.

There followed a panel discussion where Mr. Ibrahima Cheikh-Diong, UN-ASG and Director-General, Africa Risk Capacity Group spoke about the problem of climate change, what needs to happen, and challenged the recommendations to make Africa more resilient.  He suggested that by profiling the risks Africa will be better prepared to tackle them in a proactive and positive manner, ‘We can’t address our problems if we don’t understand the scale of them.’

Mr. Charles Karangwa, Regional Lead for Forests, Landscapes and Livelihoods Programme for Africa at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) spoke about how to tap into scientific communities for Earth positive solutions. He highlighted the devastating impact of losing top soil to climate change, in some areas as much as 60 tonnes per hectare, although he was quick to point out that progress was being made. Their projections show that if Sub-Saharan Africa embrace the opportunities for proper crop management the benefits could include reducing soil erosion by as much as 30%.

Mr. Andy Jarvis, Director for the Future of Food, Bezos Earth Fund detailed what the fund was focused on, conservation, restoration and food systems. He spoke about how philanthropic money could help in way that conventional investment may not, by being vision driven, taking risks and being more far sighted by taking the longer view.

A second panel comprising Hon. Olegario dos Anjos Banze, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mozambique who told the panel about how they are adopting a unified approach across the country but on a local level. This has included new seeds and fertilizers that are more robust than previous iterations to ensure they can better weather the challenges thrown up by climate change.

Ms. Sara Mbago-Bhunu, Director East and Southern Africa Division, IFAD and Commissioner, Commission on Sustainable Agriculture Intensification (COSAI) talked about the need to engage with green finance and development investment and how to make that attractive to those outside the agri-bubble.

Mr. Enock Chikava, Acting Director, Agricultural Development, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation highlighted the need to focus on smallholder agriculture, rather than seeing it as ‘farming is affecting climate but rather climate is affecting livelihoods’. He remained optimistic about the global community’s ability to co-ordinate their efforts however, highlighting the work the Foundation has already done and where their focus will be in the near future.

Mr. Santiago Alba-Corral, Director, Climate Resilient Food Programs, IDRC intervened and cautioned the need for robust policy and specifically the ‘don’t forget the don’t harm policy’ whereby they sought to ensure that policies didn’t have unintended consequences and encouraged diversity and inclusion to be at the heart of the changes necessary to thrive and overcome and adapt to the challenges the farming communities are facing.

Dr. Naoko Ishii, Executive Vice President, Director for Center for Global Commons, University of Tokyo, Japan finished the session with the buoyant statement, ‘the good news is that there is a growing interest in investing in nature.’ Thus resulting in better reporting, better data and greater investment.

Accelerating Climate Action through Food Systems Part II

Technical Session

After a short break, the second session began with the moderator Chris Mitchell, MD & Partner, BCG Group, Kenya introducing Keynote speaker Dr. Michael Misiko, Africa Agriculture Director, The Nature Conservancy, who addressed the need for technical solutions with farmers across the African continent being challenged to increase the resilience of their crops, farms, and livelihoods in the face of accelerating environmental degradation and challenging trade links. He stated that for change to happen ‘we can’t stay within ideologies’ and we need to follow the science, a unified approach whilst necessary also required that approach to be adaptable as what may work in one area may not be applicable elsewhere.

Balancing food and nutritional security, income stability, and a positive relationship with the natural world presents a compelling challenge, but a refreshed approach to how farmers use and think about crop cultivation may offer a path to true resilience and prosperity.

Regenerative agriculture recognizes that farmers live in harmony with their farms, and that the health of their cropping conditions is tantamount to the health of their crops. Offering a pragmatic framework of actions, from crop diversification, to agroforestry, and cover cropping, regenerative agricultural interventions offer farmers a broad spectrum of resilience outcomes, from hardier crops, reduced water intensification, and manifold biodiversity benefits. But chief among these outcomes – and central to their realization – is soil health, as was touched upon in the first session. Building and preserving the health of soils provides immediate and long-term benefits to farmers and the food system, integrating regenerative practices as a first principle while acknowledging and championing the natural technologies contained within soils as the reactive area for healthy crops, predictable yields, and even soil-carbon sequestration.

There followed a series of panel discussions covering a range of very specific, targeted technical solutions although on a more human level

Ms. Winnie Onyango, Associate Director, PlantVillage, Kenya praised the team she worked with for the innovations that were occurring. Specifically, the team’s engagement with youth.

After a detailed and fascinating pair of sessions, the feeling was one of cautious optimism. By understanding and recognizing the scale of the challenges it will be easier to surmount them, the skills and abilities that are being brought to bear on the problem, the will to change, to innovate, to invent and adapt, to inspire the next generation and galvanise the efforts of the entire farming eco-system was palpable.

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Cassava value addition entrepreneur named Woman Agripreneur of the Year during First Ladies meeting at AGRF Summit

Oluyemisi Iranloye, the managing director of Psaltry International, a Nigerian agro-processing company that refines cassava into starch for consumer products like toothpaste, is the winner of the 2022 VALUE4HER Women Agripreneurs of the Year Awards (WAYA). The award is designed to recognize the female entrepreneurs that excelling in different segments of the agricultural value chain.

Ms. Iranloye, whose company reaches more than 100,000 people by working with smallholder farmers, was feted during the First Ladies Special Event of the AGRF Summit in Kigali Rwanda. The session was attended by H.E. Jeannette Kagame, the first lady of Rwanda, Rebecca Akufo-Addo, the first lady of Ghana, Roman Tesfaye, the former first lady of Ethiopia, and H.E. Josefa Sacko, the African Union’s Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development, Blue Economy and Sustainable Environment. 

A total of 1,078 applications had been received for the award, which comes with a USD$25,000 cash prize. Three other category winners were also awarded $20,000 each. Gambian Fatou Manneh, the founder of Jelmah Herbella, took the Young Female Agripreneurs award, while Rwandese Uwintwari Liliane, founder of Mahwi Tech, won the Female Agtech Innovator award. The Outstanding Value Adding Enterprise award went to Célia Chabi, the CEO of Kiel Bien-Être, a Baobab processor in Benin.

To qualify, entrepreneurs were required to have an innovative product or service in the agricultural value chains, with evidence of impact on their communities and countries.

Earlier, the first ladies made presentations on the need for urgency in accelerating Africa’s nutrition transformation.

H.E. Jeannette Kagame reiterated that economic development could not be attained in the continent without regard for nutrition transformation, adding that “good nutrition is the cornerstone of health, peace, holistic wellness & prosperity,” she said.

Her sentiments were echoed by H.E. Rebecca Akufo-Addo, who appealed for collaboration between African countries in fighting malnutrition.

“It is important that, together, as African countries, we build the will and investment across the continent to promote nutrition and end malnutrition. We must transform our food systems to make nutritious diets accessible, affordable, desirable and sustainable,” she said.

For a step-change, H.E. Amb. Josefa Sacko urged African leaders to fast track the transformation of the food system pathways established at the UN Food Systems Summit in New York last year into strategies and investments.

“Following the Africa Common Position of the UN Food Systems Summit, the onus is on all of us to facilitate and implement the proposed interventions and outcomes proposed,” she said.

H.E. Roman Tesfaye cited the implementation of local solutions like school feeding programs as foundational for ending Africa’s nutritional problems.

“If we are dedicated to bringing down the mortality rate of children [in Africa] we have to work on nutrition. In Ethiopia, children who participated in school feeding programs reported improved academic performance, gained weight and had reduced incidence of dropping out and absenteeism,” she said.

The session also featured a moderated panel discussion that had the participation of Prof. Ruth Oniang’o, the Founder and Director of Rural Outreach Africa; H.E. Gerda Verburg, Coordinator of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement; Coumba Dieng Sow, an agronomist; Hon. Ildephonse Musafiri, Rwanda’s Minister for Agriculture, and Dr. Gunhild Stordalen, Founder and chair of the EAT Forum.

The panel addressed the strategies for integrating nutritious foods into diets, with a focus on the integration of locally available ingredients in meal plans.

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The Great Debate – Stopping Crises by Seizing Opportunities to Build Resilient Food Systems

The briefing notes that were issued prior to this debate cited the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quote, “Before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half the world.” This quote feels ever more prophetic and far sighted when you consider he made it in the 1960s well before the explosion of globalization or the emergence of China and other Tiger economies in global supply chains.  

Since then, of course, the homogenization of the supply chain has multiplied endlessly and almost to a person we depend, in some way or the other, on food production and distribution chains, a fact made more stark by the threat that climate change poses to them.

No one denies that globalization of food systems has brought enormous benefits to the consumer and the countries themselves but it has also exposed vulnerabilities when the chains are broken or disrupted as we see today with the Ukraine crisis. Nowhere are these cracks more keenly felt than in Africa but it has galvanized the continent towards food sovereignty thus disrupting the well-established trade systems.

African agriculture however can turn this narrative around and it has enormous potential to do so. The African continent is home to about 60% of the potential agricultural land in the world , along with a huge youth population and water resources.

The topic for thedebate that was put to its illustrious panel was ‘What is your big idea to build resilient food systems, in a way that is sustainable and fair, so that the continent with the world’s youngest and fastest growing demographic can overcome future shocks and eliminate dependencies?’

Leading individuals from policy, trade, development, health, finance and international civil society gathered here and duked it out in a positive and respectful fashion, discussing how to safeguard local, regional, national and international food systems, highlighting the opportunities that must be grasped, changes that must be made and challenging one another on points of difference with the singular aim of finding the common ground needed to build consensus on how to advance the African cause.

The moderator Ms. Tania Habimana, a journalist and Anchor for CNBC Africa, challenged the panel by asking ‘how do you try to unlock our potential, how do we move forward as a continent?’

Mr. Ibrahima Cheikh-Diong, UN-ASG and Director-General, Africa Risk Capacity Group kickstarted proceedings by pointing to the necessity of sustainable finance, investment needs to take a longer-term view and the National Banks need to seriously look at the sector properly because that is where the cheap money is for investment purposes rather than VCs and private capital.

This was a view echoed by others on the panel, pointing out the fact that ‘28% of the continent are already entrepreneurs and it’s about unlocking that huge amount of potential. Agriculture is the fastest growing sector within venture capital. We need to bring together the pieces and end the over dependence on foreign capital.’

Mr. Khalid Bomba, Managing Director, Agrifood Transformation Agency Support Center (TASC) urged the need ‘to build the capacity within public sector to be competitive and end the reliance on private sector and outsourcing’. Pointing to successes in Ethiopia through the Government stepping into map the soil across the whole country resulting in targeted fertilizer recommendations which improved yield and prevented soil erosion. 

Dr. Sandy Thomas, Director, Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition however felt that the big idea needed to consider at how policy makers looking to embrace food transformation systems ‘need to consider multiple crises and not focus on the most immediate one’ but rather look at those that might emerge over a longer time frame. She also suggested that a ‘drive towards diversification in crops would reduce risks of monoculture’.

H.E. Lionel Zinsou, Board Member, Danone and Former Prime Minister of Benin took a different position to other members of the panel and suggested that empowering the people, not the public sector or government made more sense as, ‘the best experts are the small farms not the ministers’.

The moderator deftly challenged the panel and probed them on their answers, pushing them to expand on their answers. When challenged on what should be the priorities given the competing needs of the region, Mr. Ibrahima Cheikh-Diong stated very clearly that it was hard to conceive of a greater one than food production – ‘I can’t think of a better priority than feeding our people.’

Mr. Acha Leke, Senior Partner, McKinsey & Co advocated for greater sovereignty within the country, urging countries to act together as a region not just as individual countries as the inner conflict simply allowed countries outside of Africa to profit on the disconnect, ‘when we’re importing products we’re exporting jobs’.

Unlike a conventional debate there were no winners or losers, although it might be argued that the winners were Africa herself. This was about a free exchange of ideas, daring to be bold and ambitious and over reaching in the desire to flip the script. The debate highlighted not just the interest present at ARGF 2022 but also the experience and wisdom needed to elicit change from a region that has too often got in its own way.

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Presidential Summit – Advancing pathways for people, planet and prosperity

Arguably the centrepiece of the week – The Presidential Summit is the highest-level moment of the AGRF, with Heads of State & Government, eminent persons, and hundreds of leaders and stakeholders present from across Africa’s agriculture and agribusiness sector. Playing to a packed out auditorium the scale and significance of the summit lived up to its promise.

Opening today’s Presidential Summit was internationally acclaimed conference moderator and Human Capital Advocate for The World Bank and Global Citizen Ms. Nozipho Tshabalala, who after setting out the agenda introduced a video –  Grow. Nourish. Reward – Bold Actions for Resilient Food Systems.

Ms.Tshabalala ceded the stage to allow the official welcomes from Hon. Gerardine Mukeshimana, Minister for Agriculture and Animal Resources, Rwanda who emphasised the need to ‘move beyond intent and aspirations’ but made special mention of the good that could come from the AGRF, ‘I believe this summit holds the key to shaping up the promises of a food system that benefits all of us.’. The Host of the AGRF, H.E. Hailemariam Dessalegn, Chair, AGRF Partners Group and Former Prime Minister of Ethiopia went on to highlight the need for collective will, collective commitment and collective action, ‘The prosperity of Africa depends on translating the commitments we have made.’

There followed an emphatic and optimistic keynote address from H.E. President Paul Kagame, Rwanda who thanked his colleagues across the continent for working tirelessly together with the goal of shared prosperity. He addressed a series of issues and topics including the ongoing food crisis whilst taking note of the litany of competing issues that have accelerated the problem but he urged that in order to thrive ‘It is about ensuring that Africa is more resilient in the face of unexpected shocks.’

The moderator went on to probe H.E. President Kagame asking how the current crisis, which exposes major fault lines in food systems and food security, changes the continental political agenda in Rwanda. His robust but measured response was ‘We need to develop a sense of urgency, to ask ourselves how did we get to this point. See where we fell short and try and correct what we can, as fast as we can so we don’t have to repeat the mistakes or shortcomings.’

It was then the turn of H.E. President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe who held court on the subject of Western sanctions and how the circumstances had forced them to adapt and be bold and ultimately thrive, even in the midst of the Ukraine crisis, ‘In the midst of the crisis Zimbabwe built its food resilience. In the past, we used to grow three months supply of wheat. Today we can grow thirteen months’ worth of wheat.’ Indeed they are now producing excess wheat – he went on to say ‘this crisis does not affect us’.

H.E. Dr. Philip Mpango, Vice-President, Tanzania then spoke of the impact of the crises on Tanzania and how policy intervention was used as a response. ‘Tanzania, fortunately is self sufficient in food. It is clear that productivity in agriculture has remained low, due to low technology, very little use of fertilizer, the sector is unattractive to youth, and dependence on the vagaries of weather – which weighs heavily on our food systems.’  However he pointed to increased investment in fertilizer factories which sought to offset some of the issues around supply chain, also investing in irrigation technologies to give them an opportunity to become ever more self-sufficient and create jobs and this combined with substantive change around taxation to remove barriers for smallholders could, it was felt, make an enormous difference.

The panel then turned their attention to the upcoming COP27 and assessed where the continent was when set against their targets. With COP27 being labelled Africa’s COP, the question was asked what should African leaders be putting on the table and what is the common position when it comes to Climate Change and food system transformation?

H.E. President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe urged a common sense response and to be willing to understand and recognize where they are falling behind and examine how can they can catch up. ‘There is a willingness to embrace green technology and clean technology but we must be given the time to transition away from thermal energy towards clean energy. When we go to COP27 in Egypt the African voice will be loud and will be saying we must be given the space to transition, but if they want us to leapfrog to their position they must be willing to pay’.

H.E President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger echoed this sentiment by saying there was a need to understand what is a reasonable expectation in terms of what we can do within the timeframes given.

Changing tact slightly the moderator pushed the panel on how to ensure that the spotlight remained on food systems transformations in spite of everything else that is happening in the world. H.E. Dr. Philip Mpango was firm in his response, ‘For us as Africans we have to push our friends from the north to honour their commitments. We need transparency on funding green technologies. The transition from fossil fuels cannot happen overnight just because others in the north are way ahead, we should be assisted to adjust to green technologies. The way we keep it on the agenda is because we don’t have a choice, bold and visionary leadership is needed.’

That drew to a close the Presidential panel and what followed was a special video message from H.E. Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General, UN where she spoke of the need to prevent stalling and make greater progress to ensure that food poverty is a thing of the past. ‘The rising cost of nutritious foods continues to keep diets out of reach of many Africans. Ending hunger requires us to consider food as a system.’

There followed a series of commitments to action for Food Systems Transformation and Climate Action, beginning with Rt. Hon Patricia Scotland QC, Secretary-General, Commonwealth Secretariat who said the commonwealth’s primary commitment was ‘not just to talk, but to do.’ More specifically however she said, ‘Africa has the potential to feed itself. If we can make a joint commitment, we can be the difference we want to see in the world. I commit to working with every single person in this room to deliver a future for our children.’

Finally wrapping up what was an extraordinary few hours with boldness, imagination, humility and collaboration at its heart were some closing remarks from Dr. Agnes Kalibata, President, AGRA and Host of the AGRF Secretariat who delivered a rejoinder that will surely echo with those present today, ‘I am extremely grateful to the heads of state for making me proud at this summit. As we go forward, we will be focusing on the answers of how we got here and how we can act differently.’

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Plenary – Leadership, Finance & Accountability: Advancing National Food Systems’ Pathways.

With more than two thirds (37) of African countries pledging to unite behind a Common African Position on food systems transformation last year, with a goal of achieving the 2030 Agenda, the table was set for a fascinating session which did not disappoint.

Leaders from around the world gathered to explore how to accomplish this goal and why, now more than ever, it is not just desirable to do so but necessary to ensure nutrition security for millions of people globally.

With a global consensus having been reached on the idea that reshaping global food systems is essential to the relief of poverty and for food security and sustainable agriculture, the stakes couldn’t have been higher as delegates and speakers from around the world gave their take on what must happen to enshrine the political goodwill into meaningful action.

The President of Zimbabwe, H.E. Mnangagwa provided the opening remarks, talking about the threat of climate change not just for African agriculture but the threat it posed globally with so much of the world reliant on the African agriculture industry, as a ‘source of raw materials for Africa and beyond.’ He urged the countries of Africa and the farmers ‘to work extra hard to ensure the continent becomes self-sufficient.’ An endeavour that cannot be realized without embracing diversity – ‘There can be no success without the participation of women’.

The President of Malawi, H.E. Lazarus Chakwera picked up the baton and spoke about the tragedy that had allowed a continent that had the greatest amount of fertile, farmable land to be at the mercy of whether Ukraine could send them food. ‘We as African leaders have allowed our countries to be at the mercy of other nations… We must take our place at the top table as the leaders in food production.’

The opening remarks were followed by a series of thought-provoking speeches from around the agricultural, political and humanitarian world.

A celebrated Keynote speaker in the form of the Rt. Hon. Tony Blair, Executive Chairman of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change and former British Prime Minister made impassioned arguments for the benefits of championing and advancing Africa’s food systems.  

He encouraged governments around the world to learn from the issues that were thrown up by Covid-19 and ‘take what they do during a crisis and do the same in normal times.’ Collaboration and co-operation was possible when required and can be again. He went on to remark that the issue Africa currently faces with food insecurity thrown up by the Ukraine crisis hasn’t ‘caused the problem, it simply exposed it’.

These remarks were followed by a presentation from Martin Bwalya, Ag Director, Knowledge Management and Programme Evaluation (KMPE), AUDA NEPAD on establishing a Framework in Advancing African National Pathways for Food Systems Transformation and the necessity to drive change ambitiously and with a uniform and dedicated approach.

While Dr. Godfrey Bahiigwa, Director of Agriculture and Rural Development, AUC spoke about Food Systems indicators and the need and methodology required to keep tabs and monitor the Malabo declaration. He emphasised the need for accountability but there is a need to develop better tracking and reporting and to maintain focus to ensure that all countries can hit their commitments.

There followed a series of showcases on the progress of a number of countries with representatives of Ghana, Malawi and Rwanda all in attendance. The Hon. Owusu Afriyie Akoto, Minister for Food and Agriculture, Ghana reported that since 2017 they’ve pushed a robust agenda aimed at smallholders by encouraging development of Food Security, Planting Cocoa Trees, Hi-tech Greenhouses for vegetables, Livestock and Mechanisation.

The progress showcases were capped off by Jean-Claude Musabyimana, Permanent Secretary, Minister of Agriculture, Rwanda who reported that they are happily on the 3rd stage of their 3 stage plan which is implementation of their food systems transformation much of which is focused on increasing the export of high value crops.

A fascinating panel discussion rounded off the afternoon with the focus squarely on leadership, finance and accountability – how does a continent the size of Africa ensure a unified approach that works for everyone, and how can we maintain accountability on this scale? With a panel that included representatives from the UN, the Rockefeller Foundation and the IFAD, it was stacked with quality delegates all of whom had much to say on this critical matter.

Alavro Lario, President-Elect, IFAD remarked that whilst the will is there ‘what’s lacking is financing and co-ordination’ this is what they are looking to correct, focusing on medium term resilience and through advancing their credit rating allowing them to engage with private banks. ‘investments have to be part of the solution, how we implement has to take into account the most vulnerable.’

Ms, Geeta Sethi, Advisor and Global Lead for Food Systems, World Bank noted that action has to be at a country level, within that there is a framework they are working to within the world bank, ‘the 3 I’s Incentives. Innovation. Investment.’  She commented that ‘50% difference across countries in GDP can be explained by productivity’, an issue she attributed to investment in the structure and questioned how to make it more attractive to investors.

Roy Steiner, Senior Vice President, Rockefeller Foundation drew some grimmer conclusions, ‘when you look at productivity over the last 10 15 years we haven’t actually made that much progress. If we keep doing what we’re doing we’re going to get the same results. Unless African governments invest we aren’t going to get the results we want. We’re not making the changes we need.’ He exhorted that there was an immediate need to take a food systems approach and only through true cost accounting can we show the value versus the cost of the agriculture industry and although the disparity between the two was sobering, he went on to suggest that the food systems approach remains the best solution.

Closing remarks came from Dr. Stefanos Fotiou, Director of UN Food Systems co-ordination Hub, he ended the session with a hopeful message that he was more optimistic than ever that the level of investment required was achievable as the countries accepted the reality of their position. ‘We need to listen to the exact needs of the country and support food systems transformation, it is the ticket to see Africa as a global leader in this area.’

Sep 7, 2022 | Blog

Regeneration and reward: empowering and incentivising farmers for climate-positive agriculture

By Shanni Srivastava, Regional Head of East Africa, Middle East & IOI at UPL

A glance at recent news coverage – from the extremes of flooding in Pakistan to droughts across North America – leaves little question that climate change is not only here, but that its effects are worsening. Until we make profound and lasting changes to how we treat our planet, until we adapt our existing practices, and until we utilise new and existing utilise tools at our disposal to support this mission, it is difficult to see a reversal of this trend.

In the energy sector, global leaders around the world are making bold and important commitments to help decarbonise the world through shifting from fossil fuels to clean, green, renewable sources. But whilst these measures can help slow and lessen overall greenhouse gas emissions, they cannot reduce those emissions which we’ve already put into the atmosphere. And yet across the world, one overlooked and underutilised sector is evidencing that it can in fact do this: agriculture.

Whilst agriculture is often characterised by its environmental challenges – including greenhouse gas contributions, land and water use – at UPL we committed to showcasing to the world the climate-positive opportunities inherent in farming activity all over the world. Put simply, agriculture is the only natural process that offers a practical way for us to put carbon back into the soil. Techniques such as no-till farming, cover crops, carbon-fixing bacteria, crop rotations, bio-fertilizers and smart irrigation practices can help increase organic carbon stocks in soil, not only locking away that carbon indefinitely, but also making the soil more fertile, healthier which in turn helps crops and those who grow them thrive.

But we cannot expect farmers to invest the time and resources into these performing these practices, nor take on the burden of climate change alone. Africa’s farmers confront risk and uncertainty every day. From flattening yields, to interchangeable commodity prices, and increasingly erratic trade relationships. Working off of tight financial margins, on plots frequently smaller the two hectares, and under harsh and often unpredictable climatic conditions, Africa’s growers must undertake practices that will help boost their productivity and benefit their livelihoods. And they must be supported to implement these practices.

Across other industries, we see grants and subsidies being offered for those who choose environmentally sustainable practices or choices: in short, good practices bring rewards. And this must be mimicked in the agricultural sector. We must support, equip, and empower the farmers who we have relied upon for decades to feed our population, and come to increasingly depend upon as guardians of our planets prosperous future. We cannot expect those farmers, particularly those who face other competing priorities and pressures, to farm sustainably without the right rewards.

Guided by this belief, alongside our partners at the FIFA Foundation, we launched the Gigaton Carbon Goal. We wanted to go beyond our commitment to going Net Zero by 2040, aspiring not just to reduce our own emissions, but work with likeminded farming communities to help them capture carbon emissions already in our atmosphere. We thought what better way to do this, than set out an ambitious goal – and an industry first – to help farmers sequester 1 gigaton, or 1 billion metric tonnes, of carbon dioxide between now and 2040, and reward them for adopting sustainable agricultural practices?

As part of this initiative, we will work with reliable and recognised carbon certification bodies that enable agro-ecosystems to create and validate emission and carbon capture protocols that will generate carbon credits that will directly benefit farmers. The Gigaton Carbon Goal pilot phase is already underway and has reached farmers across South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, India, USA and some European countries with the tools they need to perform sustainable agricultural practices.

Africa’s potential to help tackle the climate crisis through carbon farming in immense – but remains largely untapped. According to a report commissioned by the IUCN and the UNFCCC High Level Champions and steered by a working group of African partners ahead of COP26 in Glasgow, in Africa practices such as soil management and agroforestry can help the continent further social, environmental and economic goals through boosting crop yields, enhancing human nutrition and livelihoods, whilst supporting soil and ecosystem health. Indeed, through a 50% adoption of regenerative agriculture across Africa, the report forecasts that farmers could see: an income increase of up to US$150 per year; 30% reduction in soil erosion; up to 60% increase in water infiltration rates; and 24% increase in nitrogen content; and 20% increase in carbon content.

At UPL we are unapologetically optimistic about the possibilities for climate-positive, and undeniably confident that, with access to the right solutions, technologies, and incentive schemes, farmers of all sizes can be the champions of our Net Zero future. In South Africa, our carbon journey is beginning and we have had introductory meetings with our key distributors, looked at downstream food and beverage companies in South Africa to partner with as our programme develops, and we are planning to launch our pilot project in the upcoming summer season. And in Kenya, the maize ProNutiva program, our unique and bespoke approach which combines traditional crop protection products and biosolutions, is helping deliver the best outcomes in terms of crop health, food safety and food security. The core objective of this program is supporting farmers who face issues around soil infertility, acidity, and building soil health which can be turned into a huge carbon sink. The trials this year has demonstrated amazing results despite the erratic delayed rain that has been experienced in Kenya for the third season this year. The program is designed to create long-term sustainability by incentivising and rewarding farmers through the provision of carbon credits. The platform is ready, tested & ready to be rolled in October 2022.

With an over 35-year history working with farmers across Africa, an even longer history of developing agricultural solution sets designed with the smallest farmer in mind, combined with our unrivalled presence across the continent, we are uniquely placed to help farmers embrace this new climate-positive farming future. We are committed to mobilising our resources and experience to identify and invest in tools, techniques and technologies that can help farmers Reimagine Sustainability, giving them empowering them to become the new heroes of our net zero future.

We are so pleased to see the emphasis AGRF has placed on the importance of rewarding farmers through this year’s conference theme ‘Grow, Nourish, Reward – Bold Actions for Resilient Food Systems.’ We look forward to seeing everyone at this year’s Summit and invite others to join our journey to support agricultural practices that secure food supply, strengthen livelihoods and sequesters carbon. We must urgently join forces to scale these proven practices, guided by the needs and interests of farmers, and ensure that they are directly and rightly rewarded.

| Blog

Special Event – Farmers Forum: Leaders in dialogue with African Farmers.

On Day 1, in the first special event of the in-person AGRF 2022 Summit it is the farmers themselves that are at the heart of the conversation. Moreover, they are at the heart of Africa’s economic growth and agricultural transformation and with the dizzying statistic that around 70% of the population are employed in agriculture, this session was all about ensuring their voices are heard. A task that was ably moderated by Eugene Anangwe from CNBC who was quick to celebrate the fact that we were able to attend the summit in-person.

Today’s forum started with a welcome and some framing remarks by Mr Kolyang Palabele, President of the Pan-African Farmers Organization (PAFO) who spoke about the need to listen, to set objectives and to have clear strategies that will transform the whole agricultural firmament and allow for a quiet revolution of how this sector is managed going forward.

With the period of rapid change that has plagued the global economy – from Covid-19 to natural disasters linked to climate change, in addition to conflicts, the most vulnerable communities in Africa have been particularly badly hit. Something that keynote speaker H.E. Dr. Philip Mpango, Vice President, Tanzania was quick to point out whilst paying tribute to the farmers who had overcome so many challenges in the last few years. He went on to speak about the measures taken within Tanzania that had positively impacted their agriculture sector. With so much of the continent reliant on agriculture for both food and their income it is the farming communities that are disproportionately impacted by these running crises. For the continent to thrive it is the smallholder farmers, pastoralists and fishers who need greater support so that they may act as the agents of change necessary to restore and improve livelihoods. He also raised the issue that the farming organizations were to ensure they were truly the voices of their members and not just nominally. To that end he exhorted his colleagues across the continent to encourage governments to ensure further funding to motivate women and the youth to get involved, to hear what they have to say on agriculture and develop the human resources that are being underused in the current systems.

Handing over to the other keynote speaker, the Chair of AGRF Partners Group and Former Prime Minister of Ethiopia, H.E. Hailemariam Dessalegn went on to discuss the need to diversify and focus on higher value crops and farming that will lead to greater returns and accelerate growth. Finishing, he spoke about the absolute necessity to be bold and innovative.  

A lively panel discussion followed with fascinating contributions covering a broad range of talking points including inclusivity, security, inequality and investment. It began with an acknowledgement of the diversity of gender and age represented by the panel and how that diversity needed to be reflected in the sector too, this quickly became a passionate plea for change, to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship, to engage with the young and sell the industry to them, ‘There’s money to be made playing with mud.’

Ms. Elizabeth Nsimadala, President, Eastern Africa Farmers Federation (EAFF) talked about the plight of smallholder farmers and frustration about how their lobbying work would stall due to politicians not acting as swiftly as they might, but moreover the wider challenges they have faced and continue to, ‘Smallholders are at the edge of social strife… desert locusts, Covid-19 and now the Ukraine crisis… and the elephants in the room, the markets.’  

‘If we want to move smallholders from subsistence farming we need to cultivate business skills and offer technological support’ these stages are absolutely necessary to ensure smallholders and women specifically can thrive and be marketable in this industry.

There was a continuous echo of the need to have and commission proper research to battle inequality and overcome the challenges, technological, unfair distribution within the supply chain and other issues without which there will continue to be a disconnect between farmers and politicians.

As the foremost forum for African agriculture, AGRF brings together the many stakeholders within agriculture, a view that was endorsed during the conversation, a unified approach that listened to its members, working collaboratively and creatively was the only way to ensure success. With both PAFO and AGRA leading the way we can ensure we are harvesting the views of the farmers, and farming organizations and even those from outside of the industry who may have something to offer, to proactively contribute their lived experiences, their informal, anecdotal research and go on to help shape political discourse to ensure a brighter future not just for those working in agriculture but for the continent of Africa itself.

A fascinating forum was brought to a close with the key takeaways being that governments have a responsibility to support the industry with investment and research and that farmers have a responsibility to make sure that they are at the heart of driving policy and making the sector attractive to the next generation.

Sep 6, 2022 | Blog

AGRF 2022 Officially Launched in Kigali, Rwanda

The 2022 AGRF Summit, in Kigali Rwanda, was officially opened on Tuesday September 6, during a session attended by leaders in Africa’s agriculture and food systems.  

The AGRF is the world’s premier forum for African agriculture, bringing together stakeholders in the agricultural landscape to take practical actions and share lessons that will move African agriculture forward.

This year’s edition marks a return to in-person attendance following a two-year break brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Under the theme Grow. Nourish. Reward – Bold Actions for Resilient Food Systems, participants, including heads of state, ministers of agriculture, leaders of development organizations, the scientific community, and private sector investors, will for four days engage in conversation and deals intended at driving an inclusive and sustainable agricultural transformation in Africa.

Rwanda’s Prime Minister, the Right Honorable Dr. Édouard Ngirente, officially opened the summit with an appeal for collaboration between Africa’s different stakeholders in fast-tracking Africa’s food system transformation.

Citing the successful launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), Hon. Ngirente, urged leaders to view food system transformation as a key foundation of the continent’s economic growth.

“We have seen bold actions at the continental level, with our heads of state and government coming together to form the AfCFTA … we now need to leverage such mechanisms to ensure that we are better able to meet our food security needs,” he said.

“African countries need to fully commit to driving a comprehensive agriculture transformation as a key foundation of our economic growth,” he added.

His sentiments were echoed by H.E. Hailemariam Dessalegn, the former Prime Minister of Ethiopia and current board chair of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), who reiterated that Africa’s future well being is dependent on today’s actions.

“A food systems transformation is key to economic transformation … we need this now… anything short of this implies that Africa is likely to be the only hungry continent by 2030,” he said, while reiterating that quicker action is required to achieve the key sustainable development goals of ending hunger and poverty by 2030.

Rwanda’s agriculture minister Hon. Gerardine Mukeshimana added: “We need to come up with actionable plans to get us out of the present crises, but also to develop our resilience for future survival”

As part of the activities to drive the requisite food transformation, African countries were urged to invest in innovation technology, with Gambia’s agriculture Minister Hon. Dr. Demba Sally singling out investments in post-harvest handling as urgent.

“Most parts of West Africa have about 30% of their food going to waste…we must seriously invest in processing and marketing,” he said.

More areas of investment, noted AGRA President Dr. Agnes Kalibata, are contained in the food system pathways that countries committed to at the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit in New York.

The launch event culminated with the launch of the 2022 African Agriculture Status Report (AASR), whose theme is Accelerating African Food Systems Transformation.

Aug 22, 2022 | Blog

With eight years left to 2030, bold actions are required for Africa to feed herself

Promising progress is being made in Africa’s agricultural transformation. On my recent mission to Malawi, I witnessed the plans to create an Agricultural Transformation Agency in the country, a significant milestone in the journey towards fast-tracking transformation of the continent’s food systems.

This bold move by the government not only signifies commitment to take a holistic approach in dealing with hunger in the country, from the farm to the fork, but the creation of this body to coordinate different agencies’ efforts also sets a good example for the rest of the continent.

With eight years left towards the landmark 2030 when Africa, like the rest of the world, must have achieved the SDGs – notably the eradication of hunger, tackling food security will require global collaboration. It will require coordinated strategies, government commitment and large-scale action in mobilizing resources needed to unlock Africa’s ability to feed itself and the rest of the world.

In just over one month (Sept 5 – 9), leaders from Africa and the world, scientists and farmers will convene in Kigali, Rwanda for the AGRF Summit, which resumes In-person sessions after the last two years of the Covid pandemic, when a hybrid format was adopted.

Under the theme Grow, Nourish, Reward – Bold Actions for Resilient Food Systems, the summit will explore the action tracks that will accelerate food system transformation, especially after the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit, where over 30 African national pathways were charted, but which must now be turned into actionable strategies for the attainment of the Malabo, CAADP and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Currently, about 57.9 per cent of the people in Africa are under-nourished, according to the recently released State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022, which also projects that hunger could increase, making Africa the region with the largest number of undernourished people. These statistics cannot be ignored, we need everyone to come to the table and find solutions. We all want better results, we are all interested in feeding our communities and economies that can thrive from agriculture and so we must challenge each other and keep each other accountable if we are to eradicate hunger.

Steps have already been taken by various stakeholders to deliver the innovations required to drive food system transformation, and these must be amplified for quicker impact. The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) has, for example, trained hundreds of seed scientists, who have released about 700 improved seed varieties for 18 different crops. Many of the commercialized varieties are of indigenous crops, which are already adapted to local conditions and have high nutrient values. 

This is in addition to the capacitating of other experts who understand the intricacies of soil nutrition and can provide the best management plans for tremendous crop yields. For meaningful impact, such expertise must be circulated around Africa through partnerships with governments, the private sector and farmers’ organizations.  

For agriculture to make sense, it must be viewed not just as a source of sustenance, but as a rewarding business. It is, therefore, important that we capitalize on the food trade opportunities enshrined in the African Continental Food Trade Area (AfCFTA) to create new markets for smallholder farmers, who on many occasions are forced to watch as their produce decays away for lack of local buyers.

Outside the continent, we must continue collaborating with like-minded partners in advancing solutions for global challenges like climate change, which requires diverse technical capacity and financial resources to address. 

These are some of the agenda items that will define the conversations in Kigali, where participants will come together to derive actionable strategies for a food system transformation built on ambition, action and partnership. Engagements at the summit will drive towards achieving climate action, promoting of innovation, advancing market development, and deriving the right formulas for nutritious diets.

In addition, there will be numerous investment opportunities presented by both the private sector and governments, including through the Agribusiness Deal Room, which last year alone registered commitments worth $12.5 billion. 

I am looking forward to exceptional outcomes from this year’s event, including detailed conversations on Africa’s response to climate change ahead of the 27th Conference of Parties (COP27), which takes place in Egypt later in the year.

I invite you to reconnect and regroup with us, as we define the practical steps needed to transform and advance Africa’s food systems at the AGRF 2022 Summit


The writer is the former Prime Minister of Ethiopia, and the current chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)  and the AGRF Partner’s Group.