Africa’s Agriculture Potential can contribute to end world hunger

Africa can feed today’s hungry and be the world’s breadbasket. It has that potential. Unfortunately, one can’t eat potential.

Potential, backed by enabling policies, a conducive business environment, and innovative technologies, is what creates harvests, nutritious food on the table, and wealth across agriculture’s vast value chain.

The transformation of Africa’s food production is critical for achieving Zero Hunger — a key UN Sustainable Development Goal.

The African Union’s 2014 Malabo Declaration committed African states to end hunger by 2025 through “accelerated agricultural growth and transformation for shared prosperity and improved livelihoods”.

Fast forward to seven years later. There is real momentum behind Africa’s aspirations to feed itself rather than depend on unsustainable food imports. Countries are making giant strides.

For example, innovative farming techniques, including new seeds of wheat and maize varieties that are heat- and drought-resistant, are drastically boosting agricultural production. They are changing lives and benefitting more than 80 million people.

Drought and heat-tolerant

In just three years, the African Development Bank’s Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) has provided 12 million farmers with improved seeds and new farming practices to grow food at scale.

To mitigate against drought in Southern Africa, 5.2 million households received drought-tolerant maize varieties. In East Africa, heat-tolerant wheat varieties in Sudan and Ethiopia have delivered spectacular results.

To increase wheat yields, Sudan distributed 67,000 tonnes of seeds of heat tolerant varieties to farmers. Today, it produces 50% of its wheat needs, and is well on its way to achieving 100% wheat self-sufficiency by 2025.

Ethiopia became self-sufficient in wheat production last year with an over tenfold increase in lowland acreage planted to wheat, adding 1.6mt to domestic wheat supply. These and other successes, replicated across the continent, are proof-positive that Africa is the new frontier for food and agribusiness investments.

Several other institutions, including the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the Islamic Development Bank, the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation, and many more, are making substantial investments in African agribusiness.

Africa requires a minimum of $28.5bn a year to achieve its aim of feeding its 1.4 billion people. Currently, Africa spends some $75bn a year on its total food imports.

Devastating threats

Three devastating threats have challenged Africa’s drive to a ‘green revolution’ and food security – a global pandemic, climate change and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Climate change-induced drought has taken a toll in the Horn of Africa and East Africa. Swarms of locusts have plagued parts of the Sahel and unprecedented floods have overwhelmed Southern Africa.

The severe disruption to food supplies has been a wake-up call and a stark reminder that Africa must wean itself off a dependence on cheap foreign food imports.

Africa loses $7bn to $15bn a year because of climate extremes.

The war in Ukraine has had an immediate impact on Africa’s food security. The continent imports at least 30mt of food—especially wheat, maize and soybeans — from both countries. The severe disruption to food supplies has been a wake-up call and a stark reminder that Africa must wean itself off a dependence on cheap foreign food imports.

Within days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February, the African Development Bank launched a $1.5bn African Emergency Food Production Facility to help 20 million farmers produce 38mt of food valued at $12bn.

Africa is more than capable of growing its own food and boosting production. To truly become a new agricultural investment frontier, it must invest massively in key rural road, storage and processing infrastructure. It must build climate smart agricultural systems all along the food value chain. That is why Africa’s Special Agro-Industrial Processing Zones (SAPZ) are important potential game changers.

These special agro-industrial processing zones are designed to bring public and private investors together to exponentially grow food production. They help create jobs and wealth for women and young entrepreneurs in rural populations. They also curb urban migration, diversify economies, and reduce foreign reserves’ expenditures on food imports.

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Supporting the zones are electric power, water, roads, and digital infrastructure. Investors build agro-processing plants in the zones. The Nigerian SAPZ program is expected to create 1.5 million jobs. Kenya is on track to create seven special agro-industrial processing zones, which should boost its economy by at least $1bn.

Time is of the essence

The removal of barriers to Africa’s agricultural development could increase output from $280bn per year to $1trn by 2030. Clearly, the benefits of transforming Africa’s agriculture sector are enormous and self-evident.

Visionary leadership can and must turn potential into real opportunities. It can transform rural communities from zones of despair into wealth creating zones. I believe Africa is primed to do so.

Africa’s leaders must continue to implement a range of policies that are people-friendly, business-friendly, and environmentally friendly. These must be policies that modernise and mechanise agriculture, promote the use of food production technologies, expand irrigation systems, protect ecosystems, boost food production and increase exports.

Countries are employing farming technologies, including the deployment of data-gathering input-delivery drones. There are tremendous opportunities for global positioning system (GPS)-enabled tractors to increase productivity.

Aside from technologies, we must bridge the investment gap by providing farmers with smart subsidies and credit, as well as investments in critical infrastructure, research and development.

This is Africa’s defining moment. Time is of the essence, for the transformation of the continent is at stake.

Ultimately, Africa must feed itself with pride. What Africa needs is not bowls in hand. What Africa needs is seeds in the ground.

Dakar 2, the forthcoming food summit in Diamniadio, Senegal, is a pivotal tipping point. African heads of state, finance and agriculture ministers, policy-makers, the private sector, and civil society will come together and agree on interventions to turn potential into wealth.

They will be able to introduce innovative new technologies that take food production to scale. They can create an unprecedented number of jobs for women and youth and they must ensure that no African child ever goes to bed hungry again.

With an eye on the future and with strong political will, together, we can, and we will make this a reality.

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