The agri-food system in Eastern Africa is in a difficult situation even by Africa standards. The region accounts for more than 50 per cent of the chronically undernourished people in Africa, despite accounting for less than 25 per cent of the total population.
Commemorating the World Food Day (WFD) 2021, at a WFD dialogue forum organized by the Food and agriculture organization of the United Nations (FAO) Subregional Office for Eastern Africa and Representation to the African Union Commission and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa under the theme: Advancing collective actions: the role of non-state actors in transforming agri-food systems in Eastern Africa recently, representatives from the African Union Commission (AUC), United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), International Fund for Agricultural Development, civil society, private sector, and youth and women groups emphasized the critical role of non-state actors to transform the agri-food system in East Africa. The representatives also called for collective action for the effective reduction of hunger and malnutrition in the region.
Chimimba David Phiri, FAO Subregional Coordinator for Eastern Africa and Representative to the AUC and UNECA reminded the Dialogue that as critical players in the fight against hunger, non-state actors, in their respective roles can make a large difference in transforming agri-food systems. Calling for collective action across sectors, he observed, “Cross-cutting accelerators – technology, innovation, data and complements (governance, human capital, and institutions) – will be crucial to accelerate impact and minimize trade-offs. To achieve agri-food systems transformation, we need to change policies, mindsets, behaviours and business models.”
Simplice Nouala, Head of Division for Agriculture and Food Security, African Union Commission, highlighted that partnership is a core principle of achieving the Malabo declaration goals. It is imperative to build bold, inclusive coalitions committed to improving multisectoral programmes, policies and strategies. “Non-state actors must play an active and constructive role to improve quality of investment planning, policies, strategies, evidence and expertise to advance agri-food systems in Africa,” he said.
On his part, Steven Karingi, Director of the Regional Integration and Trade Division for the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, noted that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfTCTA) presented an excellent opportunity to boost regional trade and integration. He stressed that it was to the benefit of all countries to improve food availability through facilitating regional trade in agricultural products.
Representatives of the East Africa Grain Council (EAGC), African Women Agribusiness Network (AWAN), African Agribusiness Incubators Network (AAIN), Eastern Africa Parliamentary Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (EAPA-FSN) and the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) participated in the dialogue and provided their unique perspectives, challenges and opportunities for transforming the agri-food transformation in the region.
The non-state actors stated that the agri-food system provides opportunities for youth, women, and smallholder farmers through creating employment and income. Support in creating access to market information, training and capacity building, women’s financial inclusion, facilitating networking, experience and knowledge-sharing platforms, creating market access and linkages, and enhancing agricultural technologies and innovation use are crucial steps to heighten non-state actors engagement in the agri-food transformation.
Universities too are important in promoting agriculture as an engine for economic growth and development. Meanwhile, the parliamentarian representative expressed commitment to ensure legislation that advances food and nutrition security in East Africa.
WFD 2021 – The need to transform agri-food systems
The World Food Day 2021, whose global theme this year: “Our actions are our future. Better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life”, calls for the transformation of agri-food systems to ensure that everyone everywhere has access to enough affordable, safe and nutritious food to lead active and healthy lives. Agri-food systems cover the journey of food and non-food products from farm to table: including when it is grown, harvested, processed, packaged, transported, distributed, traded, bought, prepared, eaten and disposed of.
WFD presents an opportunity to advocate for this transformation worldwide, particularly in countries and regions where food insecurity and malnutrition are of major concern. This is particularly important to the African continent where the number of hungry people has increased by 50 million since the year 2014. Now, it stands at 250 million, or nearly one-fifth of the population, according to The State of Food and Agriculture report (2020).