COVID-19 and the AGRF 2020 Summit: A chance to act decisively on food insecurity in Africa
A man inspects tobacco leaves as buyers and traders wear face masks to trade on the first day of the 2020 tobacco selling season at the Tobacco Sales Floors (TSF) in Harare, Zimbabwe. EPA-EFE//AARON UFUMELI
Agriculture and agribusinesses are the backbones of many African economies. Over 60% of the population in Africa is reliant on agriculture for their livelihoods and access to food. This week, the most important and influential stakeholders in African agriculture and agribusiness will be convening virtually during the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) 2020 Summit. The forum is Africa’s foremost platform for discussion and innovation for the sector, a place where the most influential agribusiness stakeholders discuss and plan ways in which we can innovate.
The theme for this year’s conference is Feed the Cities, Grow the Continent; the event will be a call to action to tackle continent-wide food insecurity challenges, and the call will be more pertinent than ever. Creating and maintaining safe access to food systems across the continent is an age-old problem in parts of Africa; indeed, the Food and Agriculture Organisation at the United Nations estimates that 20% of the continent population is undernourished. A point to note: 30% of the Population in Zambia suffers from NIDS (Nutritional Immune Deficiency Syndrome).
However, these older, more persistent problems are being compounded by the challenges of coronavirus: from lockdowns and government restrictions to fears of overcrowded public health facilities. These challenges have all had a considerable impact on the continent’s economy, with estimates from the International Monetary Fund noting that the GDP of African economies may fall 1.4%, with smaller economies facing a contraction of up to 7.8%. The African Development Bank Group also estimated in July that the Southern African region will experience negative economic growth of 4.9% throughout this year because of the virus.
Now is a pivotal time for world and industry leaders to harness the opportunities provided by our rich and diverse agricultural sector and help empower farming communities. The AGRF must promote the message that local African agribusiness needs both government support and investment from international businesses now more than ever.
Across the continent, intermittent lockdowns and restrictions on movement are having a negative effect on food security, often making it harder for communities to have access to safe and reliable food sources. Therefore, as we all collectively face this global public health crisis, governments must empower local farming and agricultural communities to help provide communities with the food and nutrition they need.
One important way we could work to achieve this is through giving small and medium-sized agribusiness the funding and support that they deserve. It is undoubtedly the case that SMEs are the major conduits for economic growth in the agricultural sector in the region. Just last year, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa estimated that 64% of the total food consumed on the continent originated from SMEs. That said, any policy that is looking to tackle food insecurity in the continent must look to enhancing the role that local SMEs can play in the entire value chain, thus simultaneously prompting market growth and empowering local populations.
The AGRF summit will also shine a light on new ways in which we can all work together to ensure these goals are met and will provide a platform for organisations to share their experiences, promoting a multidisciplinary approach. However, ideas and promises alone cannot ensure meaningful change. We must work together to maintain momentum and work to promote tangible solutions to our food security problems.
This means greater collaboration between public and private sector groups, creating a system that focuses on long-term support and empowerment of local agribusiness, not just on offsetting the short-term effects of the pandemic. For example, in my capacity as chairman of African Green Resources, I am working with international partners to promote and support agribusiness and agriculture-focused initiatives that empower Zambian farmers and provide increased access to capital markets. We have partnered with US-based African Fertiliser and Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP) to launch a $40 million joint venture to boost crop yields and food security. We will be also rolling out a scheme to support 250,000 subsistence farmers to double their maize yields, with the view to feed approximately 10 million people in Zambia and the wider region.
Similar success stories are evident in South Africa and Botswana, and the next stage for African Green Resources and its local partners in Zambia is to facilitate Citizens Entrepreneur Development Programme, a multi-platform initiative to help harness local talent and expertise to promote economic growth through entrepreneurship. The program will help train, capacitate and support agricultural and other entrepreneurs through a digitised platform. Initiatives such as these are paramount in fostering a nurturing and dynamic environment for the agriculture and agribusiness sector, allowing us to have greater confidence in Zambia’s potential as a local agriculture hub, and empowering local entrepreneurs to thrive despite our global challenges.
With the ongoing pandemic adding even more pressure to our economies, it is becoming increasingly important for us to look inward and invest in our local communities. Empowering local farmers, SMEs and farming industries in the region would not only achieve this, revitalising our crucial agriculture sector, but it will also enable economies to diversify more successfully.
The upcoming summit is an important step in the right direction. However, we need more decisive and actionable commitment across the public and private sector to empower agribusiness and diversify our African economies. A more diverse economy is a more robust one, and one which can adapt and thrive, despite external shocks.
By Zuneid Yousuf The group chairman and a director of MBI Group.