The challenge of feeding the world is immense, given the unrelenting effects of climate change, from droughts and floods, both of which have increased in frequency and intensity in Africa. To secure global food supplies by 2050 when the world’s population will reach 9.6 billion, Africa must become part of the solution.
This month’s Global Food Security Summit in London represents an important step toward galvanizing action by leaders who understand the gravity of the problem. With 65 percent of the world’s uncultivated arable land, Africa has the potential to achieve internal food security and play a greater role in feeding the world. More productive land could create a food and agribusiness economy worth $1 trillion by 2030 and turn Africa from a net importer of food into a net exporter.
Time for change.
Three key elements are needed to bring about transformational change. Greater investment in research, and development to raise overall productivity, is crucial. As is more funding to climate-proof agricultural systems, especially by providing millions of farmers with climate-smart agricultural technologies. More investments by the private sector to develop more efficient agricultural value chains that in turn reduce food losses is critical. These elements must come together with strong political will. The Dakar Feed Africa Summit in January, attended by 34 heads of state and government, mobilized $72 billion globally in support of food and agricultural delivery compacts across African countries.
Time to scale up agricultural technologies and innovations.
The Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT), which brings together the global agricultural research centers of the CGIAR, national and regional research organizations and private sector agribusinesses, is showing impressive results at a scale never before seen in Africa. It has delivered climate smart wheat, rice and maize crop varieties to over 12 million farmers in the past four years. With the support of the African Development Bank Group’s TAAT initiative, heat-tolerant wheat varieties have been cultivated by millions of farmers in Ethiopia, and helped the country achieve wheat self-sufficiency in four years. This is but one of several successful examples.
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But overall, the ability to accelerate adoption and scale up promising projects remains limited. To do so, CGIAR must double its annual budget by 2030 to $2 billion annually. Research shows this would be money well spent as $1 of investment in its work provides $10 in benefits for local farming communities. CGIAR innovations need a transmission belt to accelerate their integration into the portfolio of large financiers, including international finance institutions such as the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and other key players.
It is estimated that food system transformation in Africa requires $614 billion through 2030. Of that, $15.4 billion a year is envisioned as coming from public funds and $68.1 billion from the private sector. That’s because when the two effectively invest together, public funding de-risks and opens private investment.
Africa Improved Foods, the continent’s first big public-private partnership with the specific aim of eliminating hunger and malnutrition, started with an investment of $65 million from a consortium including the government of Rwanda and global life-sciences group DSM in 2016. Today, it benefits 1.6 million people a day and works with 90,000 smallholder farmers to purchase products at set prices.
But to win the private sector’s trust and investment, governments must first keep their promises. What is needed is an ecosystem that benefits all stakeholders with business and investment-friendly policies.
The African Development Bank, International Fund for Agricultural Development, and the Islamic Development Bank are investing over $1.5 billion in 25 agro-industrial processing zones. Africa loses much of the food it produces due to inadequate storage, and poor post-harvest handing and processing. Investing in the development of infrastructure that supports agriculture and agribusinesses such as special agro-industrial processing zones holds the keys for creating new wealth across Africa’s rural economies through processing and adding value to agricultural commodities.
Irrigate to thrive.
The final pieces of the jigsaw to make Africa food self-sufficient are reliable water supplies and good farmer management skills. Currently, less than 10 percent of African arable land is irrigated compared with 30 percent in Asia.
The key is to ensure that farmers decide which technologies to buy and use. In Tanzania, when this approach was followed, farmers saw a 55 percent improvement in water-supply reliability.
Just as improved irrigation will increase agricultural production, so will improved farmer knowledge. Efforts to educate farmers and access market and weather information can reap benefits. Digital Green, operating in partnership with the Ethiopian government since 2011, has reached more than 560,000 smallholder farmers via videos, radio, and mobile phones with advice on sustainable practices and nutrition. It has also allowed an additional 3.5 million farmers to access relevant local digital climate-advisory services.
Governments have long recognized the importance of ending Africa’s food insecurity, for all our sakes. Now it is time to move from words to actions. At COP28, developed countries must fulfil their pledge to double adaptation finance by 2025. Only then will Africa be able to take the necessary steps to feed itself and play a greater part in helping feed the world.
Macky Sall is president of Senegal.
Akinwumi Adesina is president of the African Development Bank.
Patrick Verkooijen is CEO of the Global Center on Adaptation.