Unlocking Africa’s Potential through Agrifood Systems Transformation and Capacity Building

By QU Dongyu, Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization

Director-General Qu Dongyu

Africa holds the key to moving towards a world free from hunger and poverty. It is in Africa where enormous gains can be made, and agrifood systems transformation is the definitive foundation for the continent to realize sustainable development and modernization.

This month, Ministers of Agriculture from across Africa will meet in Morocco for the 33rd Session of the FAO Regional Ministerial Conference for Africa (ARC33) on 18-20 April. It is a pivotal moment for collective action. I urge African nations to seize the momentum of agrifood systems transformation to unlock benefits across food security and nutrition, the economy and equality, the environment and resilience.

At FAO, we have outlined our strategic vision for the years ahead through the FAO Strategic Framework 2022-2031 which centers on the Four Betters: better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life, leaving no one behind.

The Four Betters are not just a vision, they are a call to action. They are the pathways through which countries can transform agrifood systems to be more efficient, more inclusive, more resilient, and more sustainable to deliver on the commitments of the Sustainable Development Goals and the post-Malabo agenda.

By encouraging better production through such means as mechanization, digitalization, agrifood industrialization and green-powered irrigation, African nations can boost productivity and efficiency, and enhance resilience to the climate crisis.

More than 1 billion Africans cannot afford a healthy diet, and this is simply unacceptable. By encouraging better nutrition, FAO is working with countries and other partners to make healthy diets affordable and accessible for all.

A better environment is essential for Africa’s living conditions and long-term future. Actions such as those under the Great Green Wall and FAO’s Green Cities Initiative are helping to reclaim degraded land, promote sustainable land use, adapt to the climate crisis and support sustainable urban food systems.

A better life for all can be achieved through addressing forced migration, inclusive rural transformation, women’s empowerment and creating meaningful work opportunities with and for Africa’s youth. By leaving no one behind, we can build a more equitable and prosperous Africa for everyone.

Africa is a continent of tremendous opportunity. Africa dominates the list of the world’s 20 fastest-growing economies, and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) holds the promise of boosting intra-African trade and stimulating economic growth even further. 

The continent is rich in natural resources. It also has the largest share of arable land, and its growing youth population holds vast yet not fully realized capabilities, particularly as agents of change and early adopters of technologies and innovations.

Conflict is a major obstacle to progress. Peace and stability are essential for sustainable development, and FAO is committed to supporting efforts to reduce conflicts, particularly those triggered by competition over natural resources, and build resilience in the face of adversity. By addressing the root causes of hunger and poverty, we can lay the groundwork for lasting peace and prosperity. Peace is a prerequisite for food security and the Right to Food is a basic human right.

The climate crisis also cannot be ignored. Agrifood systems transformation offers not only an opportunity to mitigate the impacts of a changing climate, but to reverse some of the damage already done.

The ARC33 provides one of the main continental platforms for African governments to share their perspectives and experience on implementing agrifood systems transformation and building capacity.

Morocco stands as an inspiration in this area. The nation has demonstrated remarkable progress in advancing the agricultural sector as a key driver of economic growth. Morocco’s modernization and diversification of agricultural production exemplifies its leadership in the region, as does its Salon International de l’Agriculture au Maroc (SIAM), to be held immediately after ARC33.

If we are of course correct in Africa, it requires doing things differently. Solutions from science, digital technology and innovation offer exciting potential. Success requires a collective effort from governments, civil society organizations, the private sector, UN partners, and local communities. Consultations with civil society, including farmers’ organizations, and with the private sector, were held in February and March. Their recommendations will help shape discussions at the Conference.

Success also relies on strategic partnerships and greater investments. Through FAO’s Hand-in-Hand Initiative we are brokering strategic partnerships between countries and investors to unblock bottlenecks in agricultural production and trade. In the last biennium, FAO mobilized more than USD900 million for agrifood systems in Africa, more than 60 percent above our target. This biennium we aim even higher.

Often, Africa presents two faces to the world: one characterized by stereotypes of poverty and hunger, and the other, an authentic reflection of this richly diverse and vibrant continent. By harnessing the power of science and technology, enabling policies and responsible investment, African nations can unlock the true face of the continent: a land of abundance, of resilience, dynamic, and of opportunity.

Let us embrace this face and work together on agrifood systems transformation for better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life, leaving no one behind.

Editor’s note: This ope-ed reflects the author’s opinion only, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial team of EM News.

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