Leaders define what it takes to create sustainable food systems in Africa
Africa’s agricultural production has been invariably linked to adverse environmental impacts including the loss of natural ecosystems. In Kenya, for example, there has been extensive damage to the Kakamega Forest, the only tropical rainforest in the country, as a result of encroachment by neighboring farming communities.
The constant pursuit of fertile land for agricultural production has been found to contribute to deforestation and biodiversity losses, both of which are associated with the effects of climate change like altered rain patterns. It is against this backdrop that delegates at the AGRF 2021 Summit participated in a discussion that centered around the development of sustainable and resilient agri-food systems.
In the first of a two-part panel discussion, Dr. Maximo Toreto, the Chief Economist at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), argued that while Africa continually faced the problems of hunger and malnutrition, the continent cannot continue to open up new farmlands to increase food production.
“This lack of balance between what we need to have – the environment – and the problem that we have on access to healthy diets brings a huge challenge to the African continent,” he said.
Dr. Toreto recommended food waste reduction among the strategies for sustaining healthy food systems that balance well with environmental considerations.
Co-panelist Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu, the founder and CEO of Cold Hubs Limited added that modern technologies bear solutions for some of Africa’s biggest agricultural and food system challenges.
“Through renewable energy and digitalization we can increase production, reduce the cost of production, increase income for farmers and have safe food for consumption,” he said.
The conversation then shifted to Africa’s priorities for achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. Net zero refers to the balance between the amount of greenhouse gas produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere.
United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) Director and Regional Representative for Africa, Dr. Juliet Biao, noted that the continent could attain the net-zero objective, and reduce the associated effects of climate change, by properly managing food systems to provide sufficient and nutritious food using existing resources.
“Climate change cuts across all the development sectors and we need to look at it as a cross-sectional issue that must be dealt within a wholistic manner,” she said.
A separate panel sought strategies for driving youth engagement in agriculture, with all the speakers recommending the modernization of the trade using digital tools.
“The digital realm is not just playing a role in terms of making farming easier to access, but it is providing transformative solutions for breaking down the barriers that have prevented the scaling of agri-business,” said Mastercard Foundation’s Regional Head for Eastern and Southern Africa, Daniel Hailu.
The AGRF Summit 2021 is taking place in Nairobi, Kenya in a hybrid format with participation in the East African country and virtually across the world.