Ministers and economists from 14 countries are meeting in Bujumbura, Burundi, for the second Intergovernmental Committee of Senior Officials and Experts (ICSOE) to look into the measures needed to improve manufacturing and food security in East and Central Africa. ALSO READ: Research, innovation key to sustainable Agriculture in Africa – Experts Organised by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the four-day meeting, which kicked off Tuesday, September 26, will also discuss how to position the two subregions as preferred investment destinations. ALSO READ: Africa needs $257bn annually for robust agriculture sector – report The meeting is taking place as African countries look to take advantage of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which seeks to increase intra-continental trade. Countries also want to accelerate recovery from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine. “There has been a significant slowdown in economic activity, in particular in manufacturing, tourism, and hospitality industry and trade. There has been an increase in prices of commodities, fuel, and food, which exacerbated food insecurity in our countries,” said Burundi’s Prime Minister Gervais Ndirakobuca. He noted that small businesses need to be supported in order to be the driver of regional trade. “We have to find solutions. We have to help young people and women entrepreneurs so that they can produce high-quality products in order to avoid problems and boost regional trade.” ALSO READ: Why agriculture still falls short of set targets According to ECA, there is an urgent need to address food insecurity in Central and East Africa, which calls for the necessity to identify the barriers to achieving food security and to explore the role of intra-regional trade, particularly digital food exchanges, as a potential solution. “The main focus of our meeting is on building Central and East Africa as sources of quality products and investment destinations of choice to accelerate industrialization and economic diversification, and to strengthen food security,” said ECA’s Deputy Executive Director and Chief Economist, Hanan Morsy. “Basically, what it translates into is moving up the value chain for our countries and our region. Moving up the value chain is very important. It means that we would have to raise productivity which means that this will be an opportunity to improve wages, to reduce poverty, and enhance the standard of living of our citizens.” ALSO READ: How climate change effects are leaving farmers vulnerable About 20 per cent of Africa’s population is undernourished. Over 62 per cent of the undernourished in sub-Saharan Africa live in Central and Eastern Africa, according to 2021 figures from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). The most affected countries in January 2023 were DR Congo, South Sudan, Chad, CAR, and Somalia. Trade economists at UNECA say African countries need to accelerate the implementation of the AfCFTA in order to realise a more integrated continent free of hunger. A functional continental trade area will reduce tariff barriers, among other incentives.