How to build a resilient and sustainable future was the subject under discussion by a group of distinguished leaders, from Africa, Europe and the US, as part of the AGRF 2020 opening ceremony.
Pride of place must go to Gérardine Mukeshimana, Rwanda’s Minister of Agriculture & Animal Resources, who spoke with passion about her country’s remarkable rise from civil war 25 years ago to being recognised today as Africa’s leading agricultural nation. “We have had to build the whole system, not just agriculture, to get to where we are today,” she said. “It has been very important to have clear policies about where we wanted to get to.”
These policies have been at the heart of helping Rwanda build its current food systems, which are designed to ensure that food is available, healthy, nutritious and affordable for all its people. In addition, Ms. Mukeshimana said, “The system needs to create quality jobs. It is noticeable that during COVID-19 those in work do not suffer as much as those outside formal employment.”
Fellow panellist Betty Maina, Kenya’s Minister, Industrialization, Trade and Enterprise Development, agrees about the importance of getting policies right. “Ministers have a great responsibility in this area,” she said.
She is confident that, given the right policies, the opportunities exist for driving sustainable growth in Africa’s agriculture. “Everything, including sustainability, starts at home – in Kenya and across the continent as a whole. People always need to be fed, and we have opportunities with new technology and working practices to be absolutely self-sufficient.”
In fact, she emphasized that Africa has the land to feed the world. She highlighted that international trade discussions involving food tend to be the most protracted, and called upon other countries to liberalize trade and allow greater access for African countries.
Carla Montesi, the European Union’s Director, Planet and Prosperity, accepted this challenge with pleasure. “For us, there are huge opportunities for sourcing food from and within Africa,” she said. “We can see great economic potential and huge growth on the African agenda.”
Fellow panellist Dirk Schattschneider, Deputy Director General at Germany’s Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development, agreed. “Allowing better access to Europe and the US is always to be kept on the screen,” he said. Also in agreement was Ted McKinney, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs, who had a five-point plan about how Europe and the US could help Africa gear up for accelerated international trade.
“First, talk with farmers and offer them a hand-up, but let them choose the direction they take. Don’t issue a mandate,” he said. “Next, go deeper on free-trade agreements. Third, help open up opportunities for Africa that don’t tie them or restrict their growth. Next, allow farmers to develop their own innovative spirit and let them choose what’s right for them. Finally, encourage sustainability.”