Africa’s food systems are at a cross-roads, faced with the pressure of producing more for a growing population, while also tackling increasing levels of malnutrition.
Taking place a few days before the United Nations Food Systems Summit as part of the Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, a food security session during Sustainability Summit 2021 unpacked how more sustainable and healthy food systems in Africa can be achieved.
Euractiv public affairs manager Andrianos Giannou said the world was not on track to achieve zero-hunger by 2030.
He pointed out that about 811-million people in the world faced hunger in 2020, about 61-million more people compared with 2019.
“Global food security has been tested by land scarcity, population growth and climate change, as well as the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, which continues to expose weaknesses in our food systems and threaten those most vulnerable.”
Syngenta crop protection Africa and Middle East head Jerome Barbaron remarked that no organisation could create an impact on their own. He explained that as the world faced evolving pest pressures and increasing demand, agricultural sustainability lay in partnerships and innovation.
Syngenta, for one, helps farmers mitigate against harvest losses and helps ensure that higher yields and quality of crops are achieved, while leveraging the power of nature in its solutions.
Barbaron added that the realities in Africa differed from other regions in that it had particularly high levels of food insecurity and it, therefore, was vital that any international policy directions related to agriculture or food took this into account. “It needs to be considered how Africa will be impacted so not for it to end up worse off afterward.”
Regional Network of Agricultural Policy Research Institute (Renapri) technical chairperson Lulama Traub noted that the world must feed two-billion additional people by 2050, which had given rise to fears that agricultural production would not match population growth, coupled with the pressure of climate change.
She highlighted that although Africa had recorded agricultural production growth of 75% since 2000 as a continent, about 75% of this agricultural production came from the expansion of area under cropland, and only 25% from crop yield improvements.
Traub deemed this as an area that needed attention, if sustainability was to be achieved in the agricultural sector in Africa.
She reckoned that Africa needed to focus on productivity-led growth, and rather being more productive on less land, which would require national governments increasing public spending on research and development and extension services.
Moreover, a report published by Renapri on resilient food systems in Africa found that Africa remained food insecure, accounting for 256-million of the world’s 795-million people suffering from hunger.
It could therefore be deduced that Africa’s food systems were flawed and fragile in the face of threats of disease and climate change, and Covid-19 had exposed these flaws further.
The report suggested that circular economy principles also needed to come to the fore if the issue of wastage was to be addressed, and that development partners could support African governments by providing demand-driven support rather than overloading development agendas with their own priorities.
South African Poultry Association egg division CEO Abongile Balarane said Africa spent heavily on food imports from other continents, which was certainly not contributing to sustainability.
Despite agriculture being such a major sector in Africa, comprising 40% of total employment and around 17% of its gross domestic product, he maintained that there were many policy ambiguities, particularly related to trade, that were hampering the sector’s sustainable growth efforts.
For example, because Zimbabwe did not allow the import of genetically modified maize, it automatically closed the opportunity for trade with South Africa, as a major maize producer right next door.
Agri SA executive director Christo van der Rheede emphasised the need for African stakeholders, particularly governments, to realise the importance of expertise. He believed that if food growing expertise was not developed or protected, countries would find themselves food insecure.
In making another point, he stated that fostering expertise could lead to biosecurity. He explained that livestock disease outbreaks could bring an entire commodity sector to a standstill and expertise were needed to neutralise these issues.
Other factors that Van der Rheede deemed necessary to address if African countries were ever to achieve food security were lack of infrastructure – particularly logistics to move goods from farms, wastage of food, lack of accessible and inexpensive financing and rural community development.
Nestlé South Arica East and Southern Africa corporate communication and public affairs director Saint-Francis Tohlang noted that food manufacturers increasingly had vested interests in the entire value chain, which was key to building sustainability in the agricultural sector.
The company, as a case in point, works with thousands of farmers every year to pursue and enable regenerative farming practices.
“If we talk about sustainable food systems and supply chains, we have to focus on primary production, we have to rethink strategies and provide support on different levels. How can manufacturers facilitate sustainable practices and support agribusinesses?”
Balarane agreed, saying that Africa had the potential to feed its nations over the long term, but it would require government and private sector collaboration.