AGRF: Conditions to Feed Africa Amidst Rising Urban Populations – Speakers

Improving Africa’s urban food system governance can help to sustainably feed the expanding population size in urban cities

Rudy Rabbinge, a Professor Emeritus of Sustainable Development and Food Security, made the submission on Tuesday while delivering a keynote address at the launch of the African Agriculture Status Report (AASR).

The AASR launch was one of the activities for Tuesday in the ongoing African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) Virtual Summit which started on September 7th and ends 11th.

The Summit has been themed: Feed the Cities, Grow the Continent: Leveraging Urban Food Markets to Achieve Sustainable Food Systems in Africa.

Rabbinge, a don at the Wageningen University, the Netherlands, further explained that effective wholesale markets, enforcement of food safety regulations and free trade policy harmonisation, among others, are key to developing an urban food supply channels that are sustainable.

Speaking further, the former chair of the United Nations taskforce on the Green Revolution in Africa called on African leaders to pay attention to maximising land use for increased food production.

He also restated the need to empower market cooperatives, increase the use of inputs and strengthen the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

Africa: World’s fastest-growing population

In his remarks, retired professor from the Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics at Michigan State University (MSU), Steve Haggblade, explained that Africa’s urban population was growing at 3.4% per year – the highest in the world.

He said this, among others, accounts for the market size of Africa’s urban food market which rakes in $250 billion per year – “five times as big as the export market.”

Haggblade, however, noted that the food system is being constrained by ineffective food safety administration, over-stretched and over-capacity urban wholesale markets and the presence of new actors with inadequate knowledge in urban food supply lines.

The retired Professor of International Development also pointed out Africa’s high food import bill which he quoted at $74 billion per annual.

“Domestic food suppliers are not able to meet local demands. If you are going from the Sahel to Acra, you will come across 50 different checkpoints. African suppliers are placed at a disadvantage when we have these kinds of artificial constraints,” he said.

To address these constraints, the don called for coordination of food channels across jurisdiction in urban centres, stressing the need for improved planning, infrastructural upgrade and management of urban wholesale food markets.

The don also restated the need for market infrastructure provision, regulatory monitoring of urban markets, public health and nutrition education, and the need for promotion of regional free trade, among others.

Labour wage inequality, high food import bill

On his part, the Chief Economist at the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Dr Máximo Torero Cullen, stated that differences in labour wages between urban and rural areas must be bridged to avoid inequality.

Cullen, who also reiterated the importance of ensuring healthy food consumption patterns, called for the development of a pan-African food system mechanism to solve the problems confronting the food industry.

Dr Ismahane Elouafi, Director General of the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) in his remark urged African governments to focus the next two decades to improving agricultural innovation and food systems, and also to develop new ones.

“We are seeing a huge boom in imported food, and the bill is quite high. In about five years, it’s going to get up to $110 billion,” Elouafi said, adding, “We need to go back to the basics.”

“Africa has to do its own research. Africa must diversify its agricultural food base. This is important not only for food but the environment, ecosystem and economic reasons.

“Again, Africa has to develop its irrigation system. In general, we must look at the whole food value chain,” Elouafi added.

Also speaking as a panellist, Chief Executive Officer of Java Foods, Monica Musonda, called on African governments to engage more with the private sector if they want companies to produce more nutritious food, rather than processed food.

Among others, she listed the lack of access to technical support for urban and local producers and processors as part of the problems acting as stumbling blocks to providing safe and quality food to consumers.

Trudi Hartzenberg, Executive Director of the Trade Law Centre (TRALAC), on her side, proposed digital trade solutions to the problems of continental trade movements such as documentation.

On food safety, Hartzenberg pinpointed the need to strengthen national laboratory structures to provide assurance to both producers and the final consumer of food products.

Africa and food safety problem

Another don, Prof. Erastus Kiambi Kang’ethe, noted that African governments must begin to prioritise food safety if current concerns must be reversed.

Kang’ethe, who cited the reported origin of COVID-19 to a food market in Wuhan, China, called on the African leaders to make consistent food safety.

“These are problems originating from good but ended up in humans,” Kang’ethe cautioned.

Adding his voice, James Nyoro, Governor of Kiambu County in Kenya, stressed the need for physical infrastructure for high-quality wholesale markets.

“If you appropriate technology with extension service, this will improve the price of food,” he said while citing ways to enhance agricultural productivity.

In her closing remarks, President of AGRA, Dr Agnes Kalibata, praised the speakers for “hitting the nail on the head.”


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