A window of opportunity to build back better?

Kigali, Rwanda, 8 September 2020

It would be easy to look at the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic as the final straw that will bring about potential disaster for Africa.

After all, as Dr. Naoko Ishii, former CEO of GEF and now at the University of Tokyo, put it at the AGRF session on developing resilience frameworks for sustainable production and consumption, the continent is already experiencing a perfect storm of challenges. These range from low agricultural productivity to the accelerating effects of climate change, widespread poverty and more.

Surely, then, this is a desperate moment for COVID-19 to arrive? Several panelists did not necessarily think so. The Hon. Prof. Anyang’ Nyong’o, Governor of Kisumu in Kenya, instead sees COVID-19 as a catalyst for changing a failing system.

“It has taught us that import substitution must come,” he said. He went on to describe as an example of new thinking a trial in his city, in which seeds from specialist farms are given to households, who take the food they grow to distribution centres for sale to primarily urban customers.

Dr. Ishii agreed that this is the moment for a concerted collective effort to find such new ways of working and living. “We should build resilience through taking a properly articulated and integrated approach,” she said. “In particular, we must break down the silos that currently separate environmental and agricultural interests, national and local governments, different government departments, and the public and private sectors.”

According to H. E. Ambassador Kip Tom, US Permanent Representative to the UN Agencies for Food and Agriculture, this sort of thinking means that lives can be transformed for the better. As he said, “Innovation and the right use of technology will be crucial. We must be bold, we must empower and assist, working together co-operatively to improve households and communities.

“Using the right tools gives us the potential to dramatically change millions of lives. We need the collective will and the vision. And we need to ensure that the next generations of farmers are not just working to survive, that they have the opportunity to be inspired by the excitement of entrepreneurship.”

Dr. Brent Loken, Global Food Lead Scientist for WWF, agreed that change is essential. “Today, we are only producing enough food for the world’s population by exceeding the planetary boundaries,” he said. “If we respected what the Earth is capable of, then using today’s methods we could only produce food for around 3.4 billion people. “But if we stop waste and target the GHG emissions associated with food production, we could feed 10 billion using the technologies we already have today.”

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