"A Decade of Action: Building Sustainable and Resilient Food Systems in Africa"
The United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) has thrust food systems transformation onto the main stage of international discourse in 2021. Concepts of resilience, sustainability, and “green growth” have also gained tremendous traction internationally. Consensus is emerging across the globe that our livelihoods, jobs and indeed the health of the planet, are fundamentally dependent on developing resilient and sustainable economies.
Food systems are a fundamental part of the global economic system – the world’s population depends on them for sustenance. As is the case elsewhere, in Africa, many people depend entirely on food systems for employment and incomes as well. For these reasons, building resilient and sustainable food systems is crucial to ensuring sustainable economies and achieving the SDGs and Agenda 2063 Goals. However, Africa remains food insecure, accounting for 256 million of the world’s 795 million people suffering from hunger. Moreover, 239 million of the 256 million food insecure people are in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), with 17 million people in North Africa. Africa is off-track from reaching its food security targets across all continental policy frameworks as well as the SDGs. Against this background, there has been a broad consensus that Africa’s food systems as currently constructed are flawed due to the high levels of food and nutrition insecurity, food losses and waste, and prevailing human and environmental health concerns arising from unsustainable production systems.
The threat of multiple crises such as persistent droughts, famine, locusts, fall armyworm (FAW), civil conflicts and, more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic, impede the continent’s progress in overcoming the challenges faced in meeting its targets. These ever-more frequent shocks underscore the importance of the continent creating more resilient food systems that can withstand these multiple shocks.
The Africa Common Position to the UNFSS underscores the urgent need for sustainability and resilience as a means of achieving food systems transformation. The common position paper proposes a number of game-changing solutions, including (i) rapid adoption of biotechnology ranging from drought-tolerant seed varieties to biofortification of staple and other widely consumed foods, among other solutions; (ii) sustainable water and land use through sound agronomic practices which promote soil conservation, and preservation of the environment; (iii) the establishment of an enabling regulatory and policy environment that creates more space for competitive entrepreneurship, especially small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs); and (iv) setting high food standards that promote human and animal health, especially in informal food value chains.
While there is broad agreement on the Common Position, there are divergent views on how inclusive agricultural transformation ought to be achieved. The question remains: what would a resilient and sustainable food system look like, what combination of policies and investments can reshape it, and what is the most appropriate approach to drive these changes? There are at least two dominant streams of thought worth noting: (a) a modified version of a Green Revolution as implemented in Asia in the 1960s and 1970s; and (b) an agroecological approach. Are there elements of both approaches that can be effectively drawn upon and merged? Addressing these questions should be central in discussions of how to achieve inclusive agricultural transformation. Moreover, the structural challenges besetting African food systems are likely to impede the effectiveness of any approach. Therefore, the pre-conditions for success should be identified and put in place before countries can expect to achieve resilient and sustainable food systems. This 2021 African Agriculture Status Report (AASR21) provides evidence and insights on the prospects of achieving resilience and sustainability in Africa’s food systems.
Overview: Building Sustainable and Resilient African Food Systems
Food systems are a fundamental part of our lives – we all depend on them for our sustenance. Many in Africa depend on food systems for employment and incomes. The functioning of food systems also influences the health of people and our environment, our identities, and cultures. Making food systems more sustainable means minimizing the disruptions they impose on environment, health, and cultures, including those of future generations.
Africa’s food systems are fragile and need to become more resilient. The status quo is not sustainable. While adapting African food systems to become more resilient and sustainable requires substantial investments from both African governments and the private sector, the costs of maintaining the status quo and an unsustainable food system will be much greater.
Raising yields and productivity on existing farmland is among the most important ways to make African food systems more resilient and sustainable. Raising productivity on existing farmland will reduce pressures for continued expansion of cropland and preserve valued forest and grassland ecosystems and the biodiversity that they provide.
Raising systems productivity will also require utilizing “circular economy” practices such as converting organic wastes into productive inputs in farm production, water recycling, etc. Achieving these objectives will require greater attention to technical innovation and greater support to the agricultural institutions that generate it namely agricultural research, development and extension (R&D&E) systems.
Productivity also has to improve in downstream value addition activities. The key here is for governments to provide the investments and policies that stimulate private investment, innovation, and competition in food systems.
Africa has the knowledge to build sustainable and resilient food systems, but the task is complex and will require new thinking as well as new capacities.
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