AFRICA spends an estimated $35 billion on food imports annually despite having more than two thirds of the world’s arable land, the African Development Bank has said.
“How is it that the continent with two-thirds of the world’s arable land and plentiful water resources, struggles to feed its own people — to the extent that it imports $35 billion of food a year — and creates so little agricultural produce,” asked AfDB acting vice-president for operations, Kapil Kapoor, at a World Bank Spring Meetings panel on ‘The Future of Food.’
“We need to look afresh at agriculture in Africa as a series of systems, and to see it not as a way of life, but a business.”
He underscored the need for private sector participation.
“We have found a huge matrix of players in agriculture in Africa, but little co-ordination.
“And the role of the private sector is key; every conversation we have with governments is essentially a conversation with and about the role of the private sector.
“It is the private sector which
will bring about change,” said Mr Kapoor.
During the meeting, the AfDB president Akinwumi Adesina announced the imminent unveiling of a continent-wide strategy to “Feed Africa”, which will be shared with African and international audiences at the bank’s annual meetings in Lusaka, Zambia next month.
He said the strategy was in part a result of new and holistic thinking among partners in governments.
“Last October, in Dakar, the bank convened a ‘Feed Africa’ conference which brought together ministers of Agriculture, Finance and Health in an almost unprecedented move to see agriculture across all its component parts, at the nexus of health, economic growth, and a sustainable planet.
“The goal is nothing if not ambitious: we believe that by 2025 the continent of Africa can be a net exporter, not an importer, of food,” said Me Adesina, who is also former Nigerian Minister of Agriculture.
Mr Juergen Voegele, senior director, Agriculture Global Practice, World Bank said the agriculture sector was “way behind the curve”.
He noted that while the energy sector has invested in research and debate, and found solutions, like renewable energy, agriculture has simply not had these conversations.
“We need an agricultural sector that is productive, resilient, and low-imprint,” said Mr Voegele.
“Every country needs to think through its own agriculture journey . . . but we can collectively help countries align around certain key principles and priorities, ” he added.
Last week’s event was moderated by former White House chef and now NBC TV food analyst Mr Sam Kass, who in September 2015 served a meal made from food waste to Heads of Governments meeting at the UN in New York, as they discussed common approaches to the COP21 climate change summit in Paris three months later.
“Food is the ultimate expression of who we are and where we are from,” said Mr Kass.