Development finance institution African Development Bank (AfDB) Group president Dr Akinwumi Adesina has called for an increased sense of urgency as a once-in-a-century convergence of global challenges for Africa means the continent "must prepare for the inevitability of a global food crisis".
The continent’s most vulnerable countries had been hit hardest by conflict, climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic, which had upended economic and development progress in Africa.
Akinwumi says Africa, with the lowest gross domestic product growth rates, has lost as many as 30-million jobs on account of the pandemic.
Adesina also expresses sympathy for the people of Ukraine, describing their suffering as unimaginable. He says the war’s ramifications spread far beyond Ukraine to other parts of the world, including Africa.
On the impact of the Russia-Ukraine war, he says Russia and Ukraine supply 30% of global wheat exports, the prices of which have surged by almost 50% globally, reaching identical levels to those during the 2008 global food crisis.
Fertiliser prices have also tripled and energy prices have increased, driving inflation. The tripling costs of fertiliser, rising energy prices and rising costs of food baskets could worsen in Africa in the coming months, he warns.
He notes that 90% of Russia’s $4-billion exports to Africa in 2020 were made up of wheat and 48% of Ukraine’s near $3-billion exports to the continent were made up of wheat and 31% of maize, he adds. To fend off a food crisis, Africa must rapidly expand its food production.
“The AfDB is already active in mitigating the effects of a food crisis through the African Food Crisis Response and Emergency Facility, which is a dedicated facility being considered by the bank to provide African countries with the resources needed to raise local food production and procure fertiliser.”
Adesina highlights early successes through the bank’s innovative flagship initiative Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) programme, which operates across nine food commodities in more than 30 African countries.
The TAAT has helped to rapidly boost food production at scale on the continent, including the production of wheat, rice and other cereal crops.
“We are producing more of our own food. Our Africa Emergency Food Production Plan will produce 38-million metric tons of food,” he says.
Further, TAAT had already delivered “heat-tolerant varieties of wheat to 1.8-million farmers in seven countries, increasing wheat production by more than 1.4-million metric tons and a value of $291-million.”
Additionally, heat-tolerant varieties were now being planted across hundreds of thousands of hectares in Ethiopia and Sudan, with extraordinary results. In Ethiopia, where the government has put the TAAT programme to work in a 200 000 ha lowland irrigated wheat programme, farmers are reporting yields of 4.5 to five times per hectare.
TAAT’s climate-smart seeds were also thriving in Sudan, which recorded its largest wheat harvest ever, of 1.1-million tons of wheat in the 2019/20 season, Adesina says.
Additionally, TAAT came to the rescue during the drought in Southern Africa in 2018 and 2019, deploying heat-tolerant maize varieties which were cultivated by 5.2-million households on 841 000 ha. As a result, farmers survived the drought in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia, allowing maize production to expand by 631 000 metric tons to a value of $107-million, he notes.
There is also an urgent and timely need for a strong replenishment of the African Development Fund, which is AfDB Group’s concessional lending arm that supports low-income African countries. The Fund has connected 15.5-million people to electricity and supported 74-million people with improved agriculture, provided 50-million people with access to transport, built 8 700 km of roads and provided 42-million people with upgraded water and sanitation facilities.
“There are three lessons to be learned for Africa from the challenges Africa is facing: the continent could no longer leave the health security of its people to the benevolence of others; Africa must look at health investments differently, and make the development of a health defence system a priority, including investing in quality health infrastructure as a must; and economies, which were already turning around, must create fiscal space to deal with debt challenges.”
Further, Adesina says it is important for developed countries to make good on their promise to provide Africa with the $100-billion a year required for climate adaptation. Africa's challenge is adapting to climate change.
The AfDB, together with its partner the Global Centre for Adaptation, was mobilising $25-billion to support climate adaptation in Africa.
Meanwhile, Adesina highlights the importance of the technology sector as a driver for growth in Africa, and prospects for young people on the continent.
He describes Africa’s youth as one of its greatest assets and lauded the contributions of young entrepreneurs in the fintech, digital, creative arts and entertainment industries.
The need for innovative financing for young entrepreneurs is why the bank is exploring with stakeholders the establishment of specialised youth entrepreneurship investment banks to unlock potential and economic growth, he adds.