Sep 8, 2022 | Blog

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.’

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