The session on ‘Food Systems & Nutrition: Reaching Urban Food Consumers Through Resilient Supply Chains’ asked the panel of experts for their input on the policies, technologies and investments needed to make food supply chains more responsive, reliable, resilient, and nutritious for urban populations, especially pertinent in the wake of COVID-19 which highlighted the susceptibility of food systems to shocks.
Dr. Leonard Mizzi, DG International Cooperation and Development, EU Commission, opened the discussion emphasising the need to close the infrastructure gap as 80 per cent of population growth will be migrating to cities, making more urgent the need to link rural and urban areas in terms of logistics, but also in terms of standards around food safety. He further spoke of the critical challenge of regional integration, asserting that Africa can no longer be a fragmented continent of 55 countries; rather interregional trade “underpinned by a number of preconditions, harmonized standard setting, tackling non-tariff and technical barriers” is needed to integrate the continent and unleash its potential in the global arena.
Furthermore, there must be better access to affordable and long-term finance for farmers to improve currently insecure and complicated raw material supply chains. Improved logistics was also deemed as key: Cyril Khamsi, CEO at Kumwe Freight, spoke of the importance of reliable transport systems and the need to improve post-harvest processing in order to retain the value of crops ready for premium urban markets. Another solution cited was investment in cold storage as a critical element in aggregation centres, transportation and at local markets. Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu, CEO of Coldhubs, spoke of the possibilities in leveraging green energy funding through use of solar power, but that investors needed to understand that adoption rates will be slow and that a large chunk of finance needs to be dedicated to the education of farmers who have never used cold storage.
Angel Adelaja, Founder of Fresh Direct, spoke about the value of vertical and hydroponic farming in urban areas to supplement rural agriculture, envisioning a food system that is truly dynamic: “we need to strengthen value chains in rural areas with improved logistics, good data management, with proper agricultural practices and training,” she said, “but also ensuring that less perishable things are grown in the rural areas and that this is supplemented with urban agriculture to overcomes logistical challenges of storage and transportation.”
The role of digital technology was also cited. Robin Miller, Partner and Global Digital & Data Practice Lead at Dalberg Advisors, spoke of the untapped potential of AI, e-commerce and block chains, but that there first needs to be a “shift from products to platforms”, specifically investment in larger digital platforms to underpin production (including solutions for digital payment, tracking produce, supplier identification etc) in order to understand at a more granular level how to drive production and quality. There is also a need, she said, to integrate digital policy into conversations about food systems: “We need to remember the end-to-end nature of food chain logistics. We need a suite of policies which improve the entire system – it is the bringing solutions together that unlocks commerce.”
In terms of nutrition, bearing in mind recent research showing that poor diet is the leading cause of early death in the world today, Dr Julie Howard, Board member at the World Vegetable Center, argued that we need a sea change in strategy for policy on research investments, shifting the focus away from producing major staple feed crops (rice/wheat/cassava): “the policy which saved millions from starvation from the 1970s is now in desperate need of revision,” she said. “The goal of making these staples less expensive has inadvertently contributed to creating less diversity and less nutrient dense food.” She recommended improving consumer interest in healthy foods through national and local champions for change, more public food programmes in schools, hospital and military settings, and stronger engagement of the private sector in food value chains.