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African leaders offer flicker of hope amid imminent famine

By Geoff Iyatse, Dakar
26 January 2023   |   9:53 am
In the face of frightening data and prognosis, African leaders, yesterday, highlighted new possibilities, recreated success stories and made strong call-to-actions to deal with imminent famine, with emphasis on food sovereignty for Africa.

Nigeria President Muhammadu Buhari

• Buhari calls for transparent agric subsidy, higher budget • AfBD commits $10b to agro projects in
five years • Adesina: It is time for Africa to feed itself • Irish, Senegalese presidents urge paradigm shift

In the face of frightening data and prognosis, African leaders, yesterday, highlighted new possibilities, recreated success stories and made strong call-to-actions to deal with imminent famine, with emphasis on food sovereignty for Africa.

From political figures to development partners and private investors to agriculture economists, participants at the second Feed Africa Summit (Dakar 2), held at the Abdou Diouf Centre for International Conference, had a clear message for African and global leaders – African food sufficiency should be a global concern.

Discussion centred on inputs, land system, financing, youths and women, as well as critical roles each of the variables plays in achieving food sovereignty.
About 20 Heads of State are expected at the three-day event.

At the opening, at least, nine presidents and a prime ministers, including President Muhammadu Buhari, participated in the Presidential Dialogue that echoed potential and pitfalls of achieving food sufficiency for Africa.

And the messages were very clear and loud – African leaders must develop the political will to harness the potential of their people, practices must be retooled to attract private equity into the agriculture sector and all stakeholders must begin to see farming as a serious business.

Buhari, who gave a goodwill message, after which he joined nine of his counterparts for the presidential dialogue, called on central banks to create dedicated credit lines.

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), under Buhari, has leveraged development financing to support different value chains of agriculture to reduce pressure of food import on the country’s depleting foreign exchange (FX) earnings. Under the flagship agriculture credit scheme – the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP) – alone, the monetary authority extended over N1 trillion.

The World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other foreign institutions faulted the apex bank’s expanded development funding programme, but the President came to its defence, saying the country should be free to embrace a model that served it best.

Speaking on his experience in the search for options to achieve food sufficiency, Buhari urged other African countries to explore similar schemes.

He said: “Access to affordable finance is critical for success of efforts to support smallholder farmers and commercial farmers. Commercial banks do not lend much to agriculture due to the perception of high risks. Generally, less than three per cent of total financing by commercial banks in Africa goes into agriculture.

“We must, therefore, reduce the risks of lending faced by commercial banks. But we must go beyond commercial lending. Where possible and countries can afford to, the central banks can also dedicate significant resources to complement lending from commercial banks. Such dedicated financing windows from the central banks must be well monitored to ensure that they reach the intended beneficiaries, must be transparent and must not crowd out the commercial lending sectors or the private sector.”

He also highlighted the role of “younger male and female farmers,” arguing that the future of agriculture on the continent would depend on getting more youths into agriculture. To that end, he canvassed that leaders must innovate the sector to make it attractive to the two demographics.

“We must also ensure that they get access to land, finance, technologies, information and markets. I, therefore, ask that the food and agriculture delivery compacts arising from this summit work to ensure that we improve empowerment of the youth and women in agriculture,” he said, while also pushing for climate-smart and resilient agriculture systems.

He scored the African Development Bank (AfDB) for its “excellent work” in helping Africa to achieve climate adaptation, noting that the lender and Global Centre on Adaptation on the African Adaptation Acceleration Programme’s (AAAP) goal of mobilising $25 billion for climate adaptation in Africa would assist in building resilience for the agriculture sector on the continent.
Asked at the presidential panel to clarify the speculation that he would return to the farm after May 29 when he leaves office, the President said he would go back to maintain his farm in Kaduna.

For him, technology, access to fertiliser and education on best practices are key in lifting productivity level of African agriculture sector. He also called on voters to task politicians on use of public resources, even as he said budgetary allocation to agriculture must be scaled up across African countries.

AfDB President, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, who described the summit as unprecedented in the search for food security, said unlocking the food potential of Africa would not only benefit the continent, but the entire global community. Africa has huge potential to be a food basket of the world, he said.

He regretted that potential is not sold in any market of the world, neither does it put food on anybody’s table. To make a difference, Adesina noted, the potential must be harnessed strategically and sustainably.

He said the event, organised by AfDB, would market a new beginning in the historical search processes that work in putting food on Africans’ tables.
Adesina drew a nexus between food sufficiency and economic progress, saying a “well-fed nation is a productive nation.”

All hands, he said, must be on deck to support Africa to feed itself.
Adesina said it is “in the interest of the world that Africa unlocks its food potential.”

The AfDB helmsman continued: “It is time for African sovereignty and resilience. The continent cannot continue to over-depend on imported food.
“Africa currently imports over 100 million metric tons of food valued at $75 billion yearly. Today, over 283 million Africans go to bed hungry every day. This is not acceptable.”

He added that “Africa can and must feed itself” by turning over 65 per cent of the global arable land into productive farmland.

What the continent does with its arable land, enormous human resources and other potentials would determine the future of food in the world, the Nigeria ex- Minister of Agriculture submitted.

He said the disruption in global food supply chain by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine only exposed Africa’s vulnerability.

To mitigate external shocks on African food security, he said AfDB would be committing $10 billion in the sector in the next five years.

He spoke about other interventions of the bank in the sector, highlighting the support of other global institutions, restating: “It is time for Africa to feed Africa.”

According to him, Africa has no other choice but to till its land to feed its fast-growing population, as there is no pride in begging for food. The task, he noted, is to raise the ambition and arise to do the needful.
“The time is right, and the moment is now. To feed Africa we must rise on our feet. This can be done,” he stated while narrating the dramatic turnaround of Ethiopia and its emergence as a net exporter of wheat.

Technology, Adesina said, is necessary, but not sufficient to feed Africa’s 1.2 billion population. He observed that infrastructure, food processing, financing, market, value addition, enabling policies and irrigation are among the prerequisites of achieving the tall ambition.

He was positive that there is sufficient political will to make it happen, saying this is the time to turn “the political will into decisive actions” to develop the food delivery complex the continent needs to achieve the much-needed self-sufficiency.

Adesina assured that development partners and private investors are ready to support in making Africa feed its population, which is expected to hit two billion in 2050.

If Africa cannot manufacture aircraft now, the AfDB boss alluded, there is no reason why it cannot fill aircraft with food to deliver to the rest of the build. The moment, he said, is now to translate roadmaps into actions.

From the West came the intervention of Irish President, Michael Higgins, who spoke glowingly about the new Africa and the role the global community must play in achieving a resilient and self-sufficient continent.

He called for a paradigm shift and new economic order that is not based on bilateral or multilateral expediency. A new journey, he said, must commence with all nations ready to renounce old practices and deal with the “new African reality.”

Food production and distribution, Higgins said, are key to achieving the new economic order.
He added that climate resilience and adaptation are key to achieving a just world order, wondering why a continent that contributes so little to global carbon footprints should suffer greatest consequences of the challenge.

The host president, Macky Sall, aligned with the Irish leader, adding that any paradigm shift must prioritise agriculture.

He said the continent must graduate from “the business of farming to the business of agriculture” as a matter of urgency, while investing in youths and women.

Heads of State of Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Cote d’Ivoire, Mauritania, Zambia, Kenya and Prime Minister of the Republic of Niger all shared similar sentiment – Africa must seriously look inward for a solution to the challenge of hunger.

Recent reports said the continent was on the verge of extreme famine, with the United Nations saying $3.7 billion is required to save people affected in the Horn of Africa alone.

The Horn of Africa consists of the Somali peninsula, the eastern part of Ethiopia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti.

The World Bank Food Security Update released this month said high fertiliser prices have become a significant obstacle to food production in many low-income countries, especially Africa. Four out of the top 10 countries with the highest inflation rate last year, according to the report, are from the continent.

In the next two days, African leaders will be engaging investors in boardroom sessions to showcase their food production, processing and delivery projects. Funding is expected to be attracted to critical areas and deals sealed.