BY OUR EDITORS
Recently, the international community celebrated this year’s edition of the World Food Day. It is intended to mark the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in 1945.
World Food Day is a day of action dedicated to tackling global hunger. It is meant to promote worldwide awareness and action for those who suffer from hunger and for the need to ensure food security and nutritious diets for all. The focus of the day is that food is a basic and fundamental human right.
This year’s event has as its theme ‘Grow, Nourish, Sustain. Together, our actions are our future.’
It speaks to the current state of hunger in the world particularly in Africa and the need for all to join hands to defeat the monster.
The situation in Africa is made worse by insecurity, war, drought and flood, leading to unimaginable level of poverty and further fueling insecurity in the region. The United Nations figures show that more than 250 million people in Africa – one in five – are undernourished, making them vulnerable to disease, deficiencies and developmental stunting that stops them from reaching their full potential. Experts insist that this has to change.
The outbreak of COVID-19 has even worsened the already bad situation, threatening to affect the entire food system in Africa.
Africa is a net importer of food, with staple foods such as wheat, rice and maize being some of the largest imports. The pandemic has created shocks globally with negative impacts on intra-African trade, with Gross Domestic Product (GDP) expected to drop precipitously from 2.4 percent in 2019 to -2.1 to -5.1 percent in 2020 according to the World Bank, marking the first recession in the region in 25 years. Most African economies, especially those of commodity exporting countries, are projected to be the hardest hit.
But there is a window of opportunity created by COVID-19 pandemic. It is an opportunity for African countries to accelerate the shift towards a single market and for the continent to make a paradigm shift to be able to fend for itself and reduce its dependence on food imports.
That is why it is expedient that African leaders take the full implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) seriously. This will open up continental trade routes and economic opportunities in the long-term, but presents an even greater short-term advantage: it allows African countries to keep their food systems alive to avert what could be one for the worst food crises in its history.
To ensure free flow of food across the continent, governments must also build buyer-supplier networks, connecting small and medium scale producers, including smallholder farmers, to buyers locally and regionally. A large part of this step is the removal of discretionary constraints such as import and export restrictions that distort trade, so as to connect these producers to their markets. It is essential to remove non-tariff barriers like transport and logistics bottlenecks, which have long been a deterrent for the efficient movement of goods and services between African countries.
This newspaper believes that African governments must also implement policies to support local production. These policies must seek to develop regional value chains, strengthen national food production capacities and linkages to regional markets, which in turn will provide a strong basis for countries to export and boost inter- and intra-regional trade in the long-term. Governments must also play their part, committing to sourcing food locally and reducing costly imports.
Now, it is not about the world saving Africa. It is time for Africans to take their destinies in their own hands. African rich men and investors should know that real and profitable business opportunities exist, all the way along the supply chain from farmers to the market. Investing in Africa’s food security is socially responsible, too.
Investing in agriculture would bring other benefits such as enhanced regional economic security which in turn will reduce the factors that trigger displacement and war.
We believe that aid agencies such as the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) could use surplus crops from African farmers to supply to conflict zones. A regional food network could get food to drought-hit regions such as the Sahel faster and more efficiently.
Greater food security would also address the poverty and despair that drive so many Africans to migrate, risking – and in many cases losing – their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe.
As we celebrate this year’s World Food Day, it is also imperative to commend the efforts of the Nigerian government to ensure food security in the country through the various initiatives it has put in place, especially the Anchor Borrowers Programme of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) which is seriously revolutionalising the agricultural sector in Nigeria.