By QU Dongyu*
A promising transformation has already started in Africa’s farmlands. Family farmers are increasingly using innovative approaches and scientific research, combined with traditional knowledge, to increase the productivity of their fields, diversify their crops, boost their nutrition and build climate resilience.
This shift can go much further with the addition of digital tools, increased links to markets and greater efficiency along agrifood chains, especially if the private sector and national policies also support this shift.
This is the African continent that the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is working to promote, together with a broad range of partners, to make Africa’s agrifood systems more efficient, more inclusive, more resilient and more sustainable.
For this transformation to be achieved, African countries must be in the driver’s seat.
From 11 to 14 April 2022, more than 50 African countries will come together at the 32nd Session of the FAO Regional Conference for Africa in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, to define regional priorities for agrifood systems transformation on the Continent. The Regional Conference comes at a time when 281 million people in Africa do not have enough food to eat each day, nearly three-quarters of the African population cannot afford nutritious food, and drought threatens lives and livelihoods in the Horn of Africa. All this as countries continue to grapple with the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like the tall ceiba tree on Equatorial Guinea’s national flag, which grows around the island of Malabo, we too must stand tall in the face of Africa’s many simultaneous and overlapping challenges. The four-day high-level meeting will be held in the same venue where leaders of the African Union member countries committed to transform the African agriculture sector and end hunger in Africa by 2025.
Time is running out. Without extraordinary efforts by every African country, it will be difficult to meet these aspirations and the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Digitalization and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) can be game changers in this extraordinary effort. At FAO, we see digitalization as a core element of rural development. Our 1000 Digital Villages initiative is currently being piloted in seven African countries, and it aims to equip communities with digital tools and services to fast-track rural transformation and wellbeing. Through this initiative, FAO has already supported countries in using digital tools to create electronic land registries, and apps for pest and disease management, including extension services reaching last mile farmers.
In the same way, the AfCFTA can radically transform Africa’s rural prosperity. This regional single market, covering 1.2 billion consumers, is a major opportunity to boost economic growth, reduce poverty, and broaden economic inclusion. Swift national implementation, taking into account women and youth, will see this opportunity benefit all.
Indeed, African countries already have a suite of instruments in their hands to speed up transformation of agrifood systems and rural development. Chief among them is the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) – the continent-wide initiative led by African countries to end hunger and reduce poverty through agricultural development.
I welcome the African countries’ recent renewed commitment to accelerate CAADP implementation towards achieving the Malabo commitments. FAO stands ready to support this effort, including on strengthening the quality of data used to measure progress as part of the CAADP biennial review.
Other existing instruments to accelerate progress include the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA), which provides a common framework for African stakeholders to build integrated infrastructure to boost trade and jobs; the African Union Climate Change Strategy that aims at achieving the Agenda 2063 Vision by building the resilience of the African continent to the negative impacts of climate change; the Science Technology Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA), which can have enormous benefits for agriculture; and Boosting Intra African Trade to make trade a development driver.
African ownership and African leadership in all of these is vital.
These issues and more will be at the core of the Regional Conference. Ministerial Roundtables will focus on the policy priorities needed to address and mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on African agrifood systems; investing in ecosystem restoration in Africa for agrifood systems transformation; promoting trade and investment under the AfCFTA; and ensuring that women, youth and rural farmers are included in the Continent’s agrifood systems.
I invite policy makers, civil society organizations, research institutions, the private sector, donor partners and all stakeholders interested in Africa’s transformation by innovation in agriculture to follow the proceedings.
Underpinning the discussions will be the FAO Strategic Framework 2022-31, which supports the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and sets out our roadmap for achieving the “Four Betters”: better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life for all, leaving no one behind.
Central to delivering on these objectives are FAO’s flagship initiatives such as the Hand-in-Hand Initiative, which identifies gaps in rural transformation and matches countries with partners to deliver tangible results. It is supported by a geospatial data platform powered by FAO’s wealth of data on key sectors. So far, 27 African countries have joined this global initiative, and I encourage more countries in Africa to take part and benefit from this unique opportunity.
FAO has also recently launched the One Country One Priority Product initiative in Africa to support countries to develop sustainable value chains and reach new markets.
Our new Green Cities Initiative is underway in several African cities, which integrates urban forestry and agriculture into local planning. This makes for more sustainable cities and shorter routes for nutritious foods to reach markets. All of these initiatives are country-driven and country-owned, highlighting that action at country level is critical.
Together we can transform Africa’s agriculture to achieve The Africa We Want.(End).
* QU Dongyu is the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)