The international community’s adoption of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda has positioned the food and agriculture sector as a catalyst for achieving inclusive global growth and eradicating poverty and hunger.
Africa is well placed to attain the universal set of goals. African Heads of State and Government have courageously agreed to eradicate hunger by the year 2025. This is a great challenge – as Africa has aimed higher – but also a great opportunity.
The next few years will thus be crucial for Africa if we are to go down in history as the Zero Hunger Generation.
Under the theme ‘’Transforming African Agri-food systems for inclusive growth and shared prosperity,” FAO will meet with the continent’s agricultural leaders during its biennial regional conference taking place in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire on 4-8 April 2016.
This is a timely event, for a number of reasons.
First, it draws on the momentum created by the 2014 Malabo Declaration through which African leaders called for a fundamental shift in the continent’s agricultural and rural development, in line with the aspirations of Africa’s Agenda 2063, which emphasizes unity, self-reliance, integration and solidarity.
Also in 2014, African nations joined all other states in adopting the Rome Declaration and its related Framework for Action at the Second International Conference on Nutrition.
Second, FAO’s Regional Conference also comes hard on the heels of the recent COP 21 climate change agreement, which presents Africa with numerous opportunities to develop its climate adaptation and mitigation responses.
Africa is already feeling the impacts of climate change, including an increase in the severity and frequency of droughts, floods and other extreme weather events. A clear example of this is the current El Niño with its devastating effects on the livelihoods of farmers and agro-pastoralists in Eastern and Southern Africa.
Climate change will also increase the risk of transboundary plant and animal pests and diseases, which will need control and adequate responses.
A number of other challenges lie ahead that the continent’s leaders must embrace and turn into opportunities.
It is expected that more than half of the projected global population growth between now and 2050 will occur in Africa - adding 1.3 billion people to the continent’s population.
African agriculture markets are projected to surpass US$1 trillion over the next thirty years. These demographic and economic trends represent both a huge opportunity and a challenge for African Agriculture and the agri-food system.
By investing in African food systems, on the way we produce, collect, store, transport, process, package and distribute foods, we can produce the food Africans eat and create a dynamic sector that generates jobs and livelihoods for our youth.
By investing in African institutions to educate people, to establish and rigorously apply food standards and to monitor food safety, we can improve our diets and our health and create a more nutritious food system.
African governments will need to reengage in the systematic implementation of sound rural development policies and programmes that maximize opportunities for young people, family farmers, strengthen their capacities, and facilitate access to sustainable technologies and productive resources needed to drive broad-based growth in the agricultural sector and rural economy.
Africa currently imports US$50 billion in food. Persistent food import dependency remains a serious problem for many African countries, especially as high food import bills take money away from other important development agendas without resolving food insecurity.
Dependence on food imports should not be the rule. Africa has the potential to be not only self-sufficient but also to become a major food exporter to the rest of the world.
To feed itself, Africa needs to build on its regional integration potential. There is significant scope for expanding intra-regional trade of strategic food commodities. Strong sub-regional institutions and consistent, predictable trade policies and regulations are critical elements for increased movement of goods between countries.
Thanks to the impetus provided by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development and the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme, it is now widely agreed that enhancing intra-African trade holds a key role for overcoming Africa’s food import dependency and food insecurity problems.
Actions taken by African leaders are essential, and so are actions by the rest of the world. Sustained political commitment at the highest level is necessary so that any growth recorded on the continent reaches the poorest and the most vulnerable.
South-South Cooperation provides an important way through which developing countries can help each other to bridge the technological gap that exists in food production, agriculture and the rural economy in general.
In Abidjan, we will invite all conference participants to promote the African Solidarity Trust Fund – an important instrument of South-South Cooperation – and to partner in sharing expertise and best practices in agriculture as well as financial resources.
Eradicating hunger by the year 2025 and achieving the SDGs by 2030 require targeted and innovative interventions, including food, health and sanitation assistance, social protection, education and training and improved infrastructure - all with a special focus on the most vulnerable. This will create the “virtuous cycle” of local development, leading to food security and improved nutrition.
This can happen only if women in Africa are empowered and put at the front line of development efforts, then Africa can be freed from hunger and also obtain better nutrition.
FAO, for its part, with its available expertise and resources, stands ready to support Africa in achieving its priorities in firm collaboration with the African Union, other regional institutions, and humanitarian and development partners.
Now is the time for African leaders to act together. By doing so, they can ensure that their continent can achieve, in a sustainable and environmentally sound way, a better future for all.
The writer is the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).The article was written on the occasion of the 29th Session of the FAO Regional Conference for Africa (4-8 April 2016, Abidjan)