Access to food – in quantity and quality – is a fundamental human right. It is also essential for ending hunger and malnutrition, and ensuring a healthier and productive workforce. Although agriculture employs over 60% of the African workforce and accounts for roughly a third of the continent’s GDP, Africa is the most food-insecure region in the world with more than 232mn under-nourished people, or approximately one in four, says African Development Bank.
Structural food insecurity is a particular challenge in fragile economies, which are disproportionately susceptible to resource and commodity price shocks and where poor agriculture infrastructure, governance and weak institutions result in low productivity and a heavy dependence on food imports.
Women face systematic discrimination across the continent, for example in terms of land ownership, which severely limits their opportunities to benefit from agricultural value chains. This is further multiplied by women’s unequal access to inputs, household decision making, education, finance, and markets.
FAO estimates that closing the gender gap could increase farm yields by 20-30%, and there is wide-spread evidence that closing the gender gap within households has wide-spread benefits for families.
As a result of these factors, Africa had an estimated net food import bill of $35.4bn in 2015, with about 15 food chains accounting for most imports, including five staple commodities such as wheat, sugar, rice, beef, soybeans.
Africa’s potential for agricultural production is enormous, with 60% of the world’s unused arable land. Increased food demand and changing consumption habits are leading to rapidly rising net food imports, which are expected to grow from $35bn in 2015 to over $110bn by 2025, which could be offset by increased African production.
Export of primary agricultural production is still very high in Africa compared to other regions of the world.
Therefore, agriculture offers a realistic prospect for large-scale job creation, especially in fragile economies. Given the importance of food and nutrition, promoting agricultural value chains and improving market access have the potential to diversify economies, raise incomes, increase food security and macroeconomic stability, contribute to mitigating conflict and prevent internal and external migration.
The African Development Bank (AfDB) has developed a strategy for long-term agricultural transformation in Africa under an initiative dubbed ‘Feed Africa’. It launched an initiative to ensure food sufficiency on the continent. Dubbed: the Africa Emergency Food Production Facility (AEFPF), the initiative intends to equip 20mn farmers with climate-resilient technology to produce 38mn tonnes of food, worth $12bn, to feed the continent.
It was in response to the current food crisis plaguing the continent, triggered by the Russia-Ukraine conflict, two countries on which many African countries depend for wheat, maize, sunflower oil and barley.
According to the multilateral development bank, Africa should not be going with cap in hand begging for food when the continent held 65% of the world’s arable land.
“Africa should not go cap in hand to beg for food. No! Africa should produce to feed its citizens,” noted Dr Akinwunmi A. Adesina, president of AfDB.
The overall goal of ‘Feed Africa’ initiative is to make Africa a net food exporter by 2025.