Time for Africa to feed itself – Dakar 2 summit takes Africa’s food agenda forward

Thirty-four African heads of state and government along with scores of ministers and international partners came together in Dakar to mobilise investment and move forward plans to harness Africa’s immense agricultural potential.

There was firm agreement that Africa should set the bar much higher than simply becoming self-sufficient in food production at the Feed Africa: Food Sovereignty and Resilience summit (Dakar 2) in Senegal at the end of January.

“It is time for Africa to feed itself and fully unlock its agriculture potential to help feed the world,” stated the final declaration. The declaration also commended the planned investment of $10bn by the African Development Bank (AfDB), co-hosts of the event along with the government of Senegal, and a further $20bn by other partners in support of Africa’s agricultural development over the next five years.

The summit was attended by heads of state and government from 34 African countries, along with scores of African ministers of agriculture and many international partners.

Paradigm shift is needed
Hosting the event, which came in the wake of huge pressure on Africa’s food security from rising inflation and the war in Ukraine, Senegal’s President Macky Sall called for a “paradigm shift” in the way African policymakers think about agriculture.

“We, as politicians, often sit in our capital cities far away from the fields,” he said. “We need to allocate more of our budget to agriculture; to modernise the sector and make it a profitable business just like commerce or industry.”

The objectives of the summit were to:

Mobilise high-level political commitment, development partner support and private sector investment around production, markets and trade to increase food production in Africa.
Share successful food and agriculture experience in selected countries.
Galvanise national governments, development partners and the private sector around food and agriculture delivery compacts for each country to achieve food security at scale.
Develop necessary infrastructure and logistics with special agro-industrial processing zones to build markets and competitive food and agriculture value chains.
Technology is key to transformation
Many of the presidents at Dakar 2 said that technology was key to increasing farmer yields across Africa. Although 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land is in Africa, smallholders would not need to cut down forests if they were able to increase the productivity on their existing farms.

Indeed, the World Bank found that Africa had some of the least productive agricultural workers in the world, measured by the amount of economic value each smallholder adds to overall GDP. Sub-Saharan Africa generates just $1,526 per person in farming compared to the world average of $4,035 and the US at the top with $100,062 per person.

Countries like Tanzania, for instance, fall well below the average with only $868 of wealth generated per person. Hakainde Hichilema, president of Zambia, said that technology was the most important way to boost crop yields across Africa.

“Appropriate technology, appropriate technology is very important for us on the animal husbandry and seed side,” he said. “It is extremely important for increasing yields in Africa.”

Flagship programme’s success reported
A key part of this effort has been the AfDB’s flagship Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) programme, which was launched in 2018 as part of the bank’s Feed Africa Strategy 2016-2025. By harnessing the power of technology, it aims to increase food output by 100m tonnes and lift 40m people out of poverty by 2025.

The programme deploys technologies at scale along nine commodity value chains: maize, rice, wheat, high-iron bean, cassava, orange-fleshed sweet potato, sorghum/millet, livestock and aquaculture. Ethiopia, which is often associated with famine, is a country where TAAT has had notable success.

The initiative helped the Ethiopian government develop heat-tolerant wheat seeds which can be planted in the country’s lowland areas, where it is difficult to cultivate crops. Ethiopia’s finance minister, Semereta Sewasew, told delegates that the programme has boosted the country’s wheat cultivated land from 5,000 hectares to 600,000 hectares in just five years. She said that Ethiopia could now become a “regional breadbasket”. The programme is being rolled out in 29 countries across the continent, giving 11m farmers access to climate-adapted agricultural technologies.

“Today we have the technologies to feed Africa,” said Akinwumi Adesina, president of the AfDB. “They are on the shelf, but we need to get them off the shelf and put them in the hands of the right people. The research and development system is able to develop technologies that will allow Africa to adapt to climate change and also be productive, efficient and competitive.”

Making the business case
Alongside technology, finance is also a key barrier to scaling up Africa’s agricultural sector. Smallholder farmers are often unable to buy key agricultural inputs and ramp up production yields due to the lack of finance available in the market.

Domestic banks often consider agriculture a risky business and rarely give out loans to smallholders without asking for collateral in return, which poor farmers cannot provide. Danladi Verheijen, co-founder and CEO of Verod Capital management, a West African private equity firm, said that stakeholders must present the sector as a business to attract private capital.

“We have to think about agriculture in terms of agribusiness,” he said. “It is the only way to attract investment. There should be no handouts, no freebies. If you look across the value chain, there are loads of opportunities.”

Moving forward
An important outcome of the summit was the endorsement of the Country Food and Agriculture Delivery Compacts. The final declaration stated that these are prepared and owned by African countries, and “convey the vision, challenges, and opportunities in agricultural productivity, infrastructure, processing and value addition, markets and financing that will accelerate the implementation of the African Union’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP)”.

The African Union Summit on 18-19 February called for them to be implemented with “time-bound and clearly measurable indicators for success, including concrete national policies, incentives, and regulations to establish an enabling environment for wider and accelerated investments across the agriculture sector”.

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