Corporate

Why Nairobi summit is a big deal for Africa’s agriculture

AGRF2021Summit

African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) acting managing director Jennifer Baarn. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Summary

  • The four-day AGRF 2021 Summit starts in Nairobi next week, with participants expected to chart a recovery path for Africa’s food system out of the Covid pandemic and build its resilience to future shocks.
  • Jennifer Baarn, the Head of Partnerships at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and AGRF acting managing director, spoke to the Business Daily about the progress since the last summit in Rwanda.

The four-day AGRF 2021 Summit starts in Nairobi next week, with participants expected to chart a recovery path for Africa’s food system out of the Covid pandemic and build its resilience to future shocks.

Jennifer Baarn, the Head of Partnerships at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and AGRF acting managing director, spoke to the Business Daily about the progress since the last summit in Rwanda and the financial and innovation commitments they are looking forward to in Nairobi.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE GAINS SINCE THE LAST AGRF SUMMIT IN RWANDA LAST YEAR?

The AGRF 2021 Summit is critical for Africa’s agriculture. It is a defining moment to highlight achievements and unlock many of the political, policy, and financial commitments and innovations the continent needs to advance the pledges made at the Malabo Heads of State Summit and towards the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Through the Agribusiness DealRoom, a matchmaking platform at the AGRF aimed at catalysing new business deals, partnerships and commitments, we were able to mobilise investments amounting to $4.7 billion in 2020.

Over the last three years, the deal room has facilitated public and private actors who jointly sought an aggregate capital of $11 billion

WE UNDERSTAND THAT THE SUMMIT WILL EMPHASISE COMMITMENTS TO THE FUTURE OF AFRICAN FOOD SYSTEMS AND RESILIENCE. COULD YOU EXPOUND ON THAT?

Covid-19 highlighted the fragility of the continent’s food systems. Lockdowns, curfews, and illnesses revealed threats in supply throughout Africa, and the pandemic was another example of the need to urgently build more resilient food systems on the continent to withstand shocks.

Since 2014 to date, droughts have cost the region $372 billion; while the worst locust outbreak in a generation in Ethiopia and Somalia during 2019/20 destroyed over 356,000MT of cereals and almost 1.5 million hectares of crop and pasture in Ethiopia.

The AGRF 2021 Summit will provide a platform for all stakeholders to align and hold discussions on the actions and commitments needed to build resilient food systems that end hunger and support delivery of Sustainable Development Goals.

DO THE POLICIES, TECHNOLOGY, AND FINANCES ADOPTED BY VARIOUS AFRICAN GOVERNMENTS RESPOND TO THE BASIC NEEDS OF FARMERS?

The AGRF is made up of 26 leading actors in African agriculture all focused on putting farmers at the centre of the continent's growing economies.

Through our partnerships, we work to support policy reforms at both micro and macro levels, guided by government priorities across the continent. The role of the AGRF annual summit is to highlight the progress, challenges and ways of working that can be tailored to scale in the local context for different African actors.

TO WHAT EXTENT HAS THE COVID-19 EXPOSED THE FRAGILITY OF THE CONTINENT’S FOOD SYSTEMS?

Covid-19 has not only exacerbated an already fragile food security context in Africa, but it has also added another complex layer to other food security threats such as climate change, crop failures, conflict, and economic slowdowns and downturns.

But the pandemic is also presenting an immense opportunity that we can leverage on beyond tackling the immediate concerns surrounding health and food crises.

This is why at the AGRF Summit this year, we are calling for decisive collective action towards building resilient food systems.

AT THE RWANDA SUMMIT LAST SEPTEMBER, IT EMERGED THAT THE ROLE OF WOMEN AND YOUTH IN TRANSFORMING AFRICA’S FOOD SYSTEMS HAS BEEN DOWNPLAYED.

Going by the outcomes from the Rwanda summit, African governments have come together and shone a light on the importance of women and youth in agriculture.

This year’s summit in Kenya will have a special focus on the role of women and youth in transforming Africa’s food systems with various issues faced by these groups expected to dominate the discussions at the First Ladies Forum and the Youth Hall respectively.

AGRA ENTERED THE SCENE IN 2006 TO MAKE FOOD SCARCITY HISTORY IN AFRICA. WHY IS AFRICA STILL FAR FROM ACHIEVING FOOD SECURITY?

Food insecurity is a major global concern. It is not unique to Africa. According to FAO, nearly 2.37 billion people did not have access to adequate food in 2020 – an increase of 320 million people in just one year. No region of the world has been spared.

It’s worth noting that food insecurity is a multi-dimensional problem linked to local policies, leadership, global trade policies, the environment amongst other factors.

That said, achieving food security will require a multi-dimensional approach. This approach will require us to rethink food system governance, policymaking, and implementation.

SOME EXPERTS HOLD THE VIEW THAT AGRA HAS FAILED TO MEET ITS GOALS OF INCREASING PRODUCTIVITY AND INCOMES FOR MILLIONS OF SMALL-SCALE FARMING HOUSEHOLDS BY 2020 WHILE REDUCING FOOD INSECURITY.

AGRA’s investments in any one country is significantly less than one percent of the total agricultural investment and it is disingenuous to attribute country yield results, both positive or negative, to AGRA’s short-term investments.

We must give credit to Africa’s leaders for recognising the critical role that agriculture can and must play in transforming the lives of millions of their people. But the numbers and results we are seeing are not optimal. The continent is not on track to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

Another sobering fact is that the United Economic Commission for Africa recently projected $43 billion as Africa’s annual food imports. This urgently calls for a radical transformation to wean the continent off this dependence that is projected to soar to $110 billion by 2025.

SINCE ITS LAUNCH IN 2006, AGRA HAD THE OBJECTIVE OF SUPPORTING AGRICULTURAL INNOVATION AND ENHANCING FOOD SECURITY AND FARMER INCOMES. HOW HAS THE LIVELIHOOD OF FARMERS IMPROVED IN THE CONTINENT IN THE LAST 15 YEARS?

AGRA champions inclusive agricultural transformation, which means moving farmers from subsistence farming to participation in a commercial agriculture/food system in which incomes and productive assets grow.

The transformations lead to sustained progress so that both agriculture and non-agricultural economies support faster, more inclusive, and more secure growth.

At the national level, AGRA’s priority has been to support governments in the 11 selected countries to build committed, accountable and capable states.

Our work with over 800 partners across 11 countries has directly reached 10.1 million farmers, and indirectly over 20 million.

Sixty-two percent of our supported farmers have changed their practices and are adopting technologies that have increased their yields and incomes.

We have seen tremendous success in building partnerships that have leveraged $141 million through the AGRF Deal Room, which is now the pre-eminent platform for connecting investors with opportunities.

HOW ABOUT THOSE WHO SAY THE AGRA MODEL HAS ONLY SUCCEEDED IN GETTING MARKETS FOR MULTINATIONALS THAT SELL HYBRID SEEDS AND FERTILISERS?

AGRA believes that a strong private sector is crucial for the development of the agricultural sector and ending rural poverty and hunger.

The private sector is fundamental to establishing sustainable systems, by providing information and products to farmers that they can use to make informed choices.

AGRA believes that African farmers should have choices and access to technologies that other farmers around the world take for granted.

AGRA has focused on indigenous African businesses and has helped create 119 local seed companies and hundreds of SMEs across many value chains, including small grains such as millet and sorghum since 2007.

These enterprises have produced improved seed varieties that have benefited 25.1 million farmers.

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