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Radical transformation essential to secure food systems resilience for Africa’s future

GLF Africa explored African solutions to the global food crisis
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Tsimi Judith harvesting the Gnetum (okok) in the village of Minwoho, Lekié, Center Region, Cameroon. Photo by Ollivier Girard/CIFOR

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Food systems in Africa, from smallholder farms to value chains, demand a radical transformation to become more resilient and accessible, even in the face of multiple crises, such as devastating climate change, speakers told the Global Landscape Forum’s Africa 2022 Digital Conference.

The changing climate as well as conflict, including the war in Ukraine, are destroying food security, particularly across the African continent, where drought and floods driven by changes in climate threaten livelihoods, such as farming, fishing and herding.

Solutions exist within Africa, but these must be scaled up to have full effect, speakers said during the online event, held 15 September 2022.

“Protecting the continent’s climate is key to addressing poverty and food crises,” said Alvaro Lario of African Solutions for Food and Climate, who has been named as the next president of the International Fund For Agricultural Development (IFAD). “We need a future holistic approach to managing the future crises that threaten humanity.”

An estimated 346 million Africans are severely food insecure, and 452 million moderately so, according to recent reports by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO). In the Horn of Africa alone, 22 million people are at risk of starvation as the region is suffering its worst drought in 40 years, according to a video aired during GLF Africa and titled: Painting a resilient and equitable food future.

Building resiliency in the face of crises should be based on the fundamental concept of ‘food sovereignty’ wherein Africa has autonomy with regard to how the continent feeds itself and its people, speakers said during the digital event.

More than 8,500 registered participants from 122 countries took part in the conference that featured over 200 speakers, many urging greater investments in biodiversity, equitable access to land, and green value chains. Building resilience to crises and strengthening communities to adapt to changing circumstances must also be a key focus, speakers told participants, including entrepreneurs, scientists, youth activists, restoration practitioners, and government.

“We not only need to take action against one of the worst global food crises ever, but we also need to make our food systems resilient to future crises,” said Jochen Flasbarth, State Secretary BMZ. “Never before have we been facing as many global crises simultaneously as we are today.”

A transformation in food systems, linked to more resilient communities and ecosystems, will help to mitigate the impacts of climate change, which is hitting African countries disproportionately – only about 4 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions come out of Africa. But at present, Africa receives only 3 percent of global climate finance, speakers said.

Changing the narrative

“It’s totally unfair, it’s totally unrealistic to ask a continent like Africa, which is responsible for a mere percentage of greenhouse gas emissions, to forego any development because we in the developed countries are responsible for the large majority of emissions,” Robert Nasi, Director General, Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), told the closing plenary session.

“We need to develop a new narrative on Africa,” Nasi said, calling for greater efforts to build more resilient food production systems in order to feed a growing continental population.

The task is challenging: the financing gap for agricultural small- and medium-sized enterprises in sub-Saharan Africa is estimated to be over USD 100 billion a year, and Africa will need over USD 3 trillion in climate financing by 2030 to achieve the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

The role that forests can play in transforming global agrifood systems is the theme of an FAO-GLF digital forum on 29 September 2022. That event explores how agriculture and forestry can provide crucial tools to support sustainable development and tackle significant challenges, including hunger, malnutrition, climate change, and biodiversity loss – all exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Transformation must occur on multiple fronts because so many elements of human well-being are intertwined and directly impact on each other, said Youba Sokona, Vice-Chair, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“In Africa, the biggest climate-change impact can be seen in the food, agriculture and health sectors with knock-on effects on poverty, the economy, migration and conflicts,” said Sokona.

Transformation may not only build the resilience of communities and ecosystems, but also mitigate the effects of climate change. For example, farmers struggling to improve productivity too often cut down forests to expand their farms, thus adding to climate change by releasing the carbon dioxide held in those trees and cutting them from future carbon capture, Flasbarth noted. Yet, those forests could be preserved if another path to improved farm productivity was available.

“If we are reactive, we may continue to experience more of the same, but if we become proactive, we may well become leaders of new food systems,” said Carlos Lopes, Honorary Professor, Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance, University of Cape Town.

Key recommendations

During GLF Africa, other key recommendations heard from experts included a call to integrate biodiversity, together with an acknowledgement of its value, into economic and financial decision-making.

Additionally, to ensure that land is managed sustainably, local people must be granted equitable access to both land and natural resources, regardless of gender and age. In fact, land ownership and control are fundamental to improving agricultural productivity and enhancing gender equity, said Fai Cassian, GLFx Nkambe coordinator.

“Securing land rights for communities pays huge dividends. It enhances restoration and helps in building resilience,” said Cassian.

Smallholder farmers contribute at least 70 percent of Africa’s food supply, but they face multiple obstacles, including poor access to markets, policy inaction, and technology deficits that limit productivity and profitability. However, sustainable finance and development pathways could make a difference, sessions heard, by improving land use for African food systems and creating green jobs and value chains for commodities like cocoa, soy, palm oil, fruit, and vegetables.

The traditional pastoralist practice of moving herds to follow the rains actually improves animal nutrition and can lead to “more productive livestock,” said Jimmy Smith, Director General of the International Livestock Research Institute. That, in turn, is good for security of food and livelihoods. “Livestock is very important for the continent’s development: it’s food, livelihood security, and the transformation of the rural economy,” and accounts for an average 40 percent of agriculture’s contribution to gross domestic product, said Smith.

Investment in the agricultural sector must be actively promoted by African leaders, said Ineza Grace, coordinator of the Loss and Damage Youth Coalition. “African agribusiness will be worth USD 1 trillion by 2030, and everyone does need to eat.”

A new, modern form of green financing that is aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals  is essential, said Violet Amoabeng, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Skin Gourmet Limited. “The new type of profitability is sustainability … which affects the full value chain,” said Amoabeng.

Alex Awiti, a global public intellectual and consultant with the Center for International Forestry Research – World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF), called for more data collection to provide science-based evidence of what improved ecosystems and better agricultural processes can provide.

The value of biodiversity and understanding how to make the most of ecosystems can be seen on farms where intercropping maize fields with particular trees that provide nitrogen to feed the soil may result in better crops and therefore, better food systems and livelihoods, said Awiti.


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