Sep 8, 2022 | Blog

Presidential Summit – Advancing pathways for people, planet and prosperity

Arguably the centrepiece of the week – The Presidential Summit is the highest-level moment of the AGRF, with Heads of State & Government, eminent persons, and hundreds of leaders and stakeholders present from across Africa’s agriculture and agribusiness sector. Playing to a packed out auditorium the scale and significance of the summit lived up to its promise.

Opening today’s Presidential Summit was internationally acclaimed conference moderator and Human Capital Advocate for The World Bank and Global Citizen Ms. Nozipho Tshabalala, who after setting out the agenda introduced a video –  Grow. Nourish. Reward – Bold Actions for Resilient Food Systems.

Ms.Tshabalala ceded the stage to allow the official welcomes from Hon. Gerardine Mukeshimana, Minister for Agriculture and Animal Resources, Rwanda who emphasised the need to ‘move beyond intent and aspirations’ but made special mention of the good that could come from the AGRF, ‘I believe this summit holds the key to shaping up the promises of a food system that benefits all of us.’. The Host of the AGRF, H.E. Hailemariam Dessalegn, Chair, AGRF Partners Group and Former Prime Minister of Ethiopia went on to highlight the need for collective will, collective commitment and collective action, ‘The prosperity of Africa depends on translating the commitments we have made.’

There followed an emphatic and optimistic keynote address from H.E. President Paul Kagame, Rwanda who thanked his colleagues across the continent for working tirelessly together with the goal of shared prosperity. He addressed a series of issues and topics including the ongoing food crisis whilst taking note of the litany of competing issues that have accelerated the problem but he urged that in order to thrive ‘It is about ensuring that Africa is more resilient in the face of unexpected shocks.’

The moderator went on to probe H.E. President Kagame asking how the current crisis, which exposes major fault lines in food systems and food security, changes the continental political agenda in Rwanda. His robust but measured response was ‘We need to develop a sense of urgency, to ask ourselves how did we get to this point. See where we fell short and try and correct what we can, as fast as we can so we don’t have to repeat the mistakes or shortcomings.’

It was then the turn of H.E. President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe who held court on the subject of Western sanctions and how the circumstances had forced them to adapt and be bold and ultimately thrive, even in the midst of the Ukraine crisis, ‘In the midst of the crisis Zimbabwe built its food resilience. In the past, we used to grow three months supply of wheat. Today we can grow thirteen months’ worth of wheat.’ Indeed they are now producing excess wheat – he went on to say ‘this crisis does not affect us’.

H.E. Dr. Philip Mpango, Vice-President, Tanzania then spoke of the impact of the crises on Tanzania and how policy intervention was used as a response. ‘Tanzania, fortunately is self sufficient in food. It is clear that productivity in agriculture has remained low, due to low technology, very little use of fertilizer, the sector is unattractive to youth, and dependence on the vagaries of weather – which weighs heavily on our food systems.’  However he pointed to increased investment in fertilizer factories which sought to offset some of the issues around supply chain, also investing in irrigation technologies to give them an opportunity to become ever more self-sufficient and create jobs and this combined with substantive change around taxation to remove barriers for smallholders could, it was felt, make an enormous difference.

The panel then turned their attention to the upcoming COP27 and assessed where the continent was when set against their targets. With COP27 being labelled Africa’s COP, the question was asked what should African leaders be putting on the table and what is the common position when it comes to Climate Change and food system transformation?

H.E. President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe urged a common sense response and to be willing to understand and recognize where they are falling behind and examine how can they can catch up. ‘There is a willingness to embrace green technology and clean technology but we must be given the time to transition away from thermal energy towards clean energy. When we go to COP27 in Egypt the African voice will be loud and will be saying we must be given the space to transition, but if they want us to leapfrog to their position they must be willing to pay’.

H.E President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger echoed this sentiment by saying there was a need to understand what is a reasonable expectation in terms of what we can do within the timeframes given.

Changing tact slightly the moderator pushed the panel on how to ensure that the spotlight remained on food systems transformations in spite of everything else that is happening in the world. H.E. Dr. Philip Mpango was firm in his response, ‘For us as Africans we have to push our friends from the north to honour their commitments. We need transparency on funding green technologies. The transition from fossil fuels cannot happen overnight just because others in the north are way ahead, we should be assisted to adjust to green technologies. The way we keep it on the agenda is because we don’t have a choice, bold and visionary leadership is needed.’

That drew to a close the Presidential panel and what followed was a special video message from H.E. Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General, UN where she spoke of the need to prevent stalling and make greater progress to ensure that food poverty is a thing of the past. ‘The rising cost of nutritious foods continues to keep diets out of reach of many Africans. Ending hunger requires us to consider food as a system.’

There followed a series of commitments to action for Food Systems Transformation and Climate Action, beginning with Rt. Hon Patricia Scotland QC, Secretary-General, Commonwealth Secretariat who said the commonwealth’s primary commitment was ‘not just to talk, but to do.’ More specifically however she said, ‘Africa has the potential to feed itself. If we can make a joint commitment, we can be the difference we want to see in the world. I commit to working with every single person in this room to deliver a future for our children.’

Finally wrapping up what was an extraordinary few hours with boldness, imagination, humility and collaboration at its heart were some closing remarks from Dr. Agnes Kalibata, President, AGRA and Host of the AGRF Secretariat who delivered a rejoinder that will surely echo with those present today, ‘I am extremely grateful to the heads of state for making me proud at this summit. As we go forward, we will be focusing on the answers of how we got here and how we can act differently.’

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