The ills facing Africa today including low agricultural productivity under a changing climate to Africa’s socio-economic growth are widely documented.
Consequent to low agricultural productivity, Africa spends more than $35 billion annually on food imports while food worth up to $48 billion is lost annually in postharvest losses, and a further 6.6 million tonnes of potential grain harvest, enough to meet annual calorific needs of approximately 30 million people, is lost due to degraded ecosystems.
Exacerbating these challenges is rapid population growth projected to hit 2.4 billion by 2050, youth unemployment currently at 60 percent with an additional estimated 350 million young people entering the labor market by 2035, and climate change expected to hit the crucial agriculture sector with 11 – 40 percent yield reductions on key staples. These grim statistics are unacceptable in the face of Africa’s inherent agriculture potential and the prevailing bountiful strategies to harness this potential into affordable and sustainable solutions to inclusive growth.
Africa’s agriculture potential
It is estimated that Africa holds up to 65 percent of the world’s arable land. On incomes and poverty reduction, the World Bank reports that in Africa, a 10 percent increase in crop yields translates to approximately a 7 percent reduction in poverty. Neither the manufacturing nor services sectors can achieve an equivalent impact. In addition, agriculture currently employs up to 60 percent labor in the continent, making it the most potent conduit sector through which inclusive growth in Africa can be achieved. However, current productivity of Arica’s agriculture is low, contributing a lowly 25 - 34 percent of continental GDP.
Nevertheless, agriculture can potentially ensure inclusive and sustainable growth in the continent if its value chain is optimized holistically. It can create jobs for many of the 17 million youth entering the job market annually while simultaneously feeding Africa. A climate proofed agriculture sector based on EBA techniques that work with nature and augmenting on farm productivity with value addition strategies to unlock income opportunities along the entire agro-value chain will potentially result in yield increases of 116 - 128 percent and accompanying farmer income increases, and be two to four times more effective in reducing poverty relative to other sectors.
A new African beginning
Conference deliberations were founded on a ground breaking study done by a continental task-force team that underscored the transformative benefits of EBA driven agriculture to Africa and how it can be up scaled and entrenched into policy throughout the continent.
Based on the taskforce findings, EBA driven agriculture augmented with value addition along the agro-value chain can potentially ensure not only food and nutritional security, but livelihood security,enhanced community climate resilience, enhanced ecosystem productivity and unleash numerous income and job opportunities along the value chain.
While this is the case, to date, the long term effectiveness and efficiency of mainstream agricultural productivity strategies - such as extensification based on clearing large tracts of land to grow more food and subsidizing fertilizer to achieve more usage - without taking into account sustainability of ecosystems, is doubtful. For instance, Malawi’s experiment with large scale fertilizer subsidies proved economically unsustainable among small holders as long term affordability of subsidies proved untenable and environmentally unsustainable, with soils degraded due to un-metered application of fertilizers.
On land uses, between 2000 and 2010, up to 13 million hectares of forest were cleared annually in Africa primarily to expand land for food and fuel. The consequence was a degradation of ecosystems that underpin food production in the first place and loss in potential yields further compounding the food security scenario. As an example, due to deforestation, up to 6.6 million tones of potential grain yields are lost annually in Africa.
It can be said that left unchecked, such approaches contribute to the virtual cycle of poverty and food insecurity in the continent.
It is against this backdrop, that UNEP in collaboration with the African Union Commission (AUC) and other partners convened the 2nd Ecosystems Based Adaptation for Food Security Conference to deliberate the wide scale implementation of a transformative strategy to enhance agricultural productivity in Africa that is both economically and environmentally sustainable.
The conference converged over 1200 delegates - experts in policy, the public and private sector, representatives of regional economic communities, UN agencies, academia, research think tanks, civil society, youth organizations, NGOs, students and the general public from across Africa and the globe.
The express mandate of this congregation was to deliberate and adopt transformative instruments toward implementing a transformative strategy for upscaling EBA-driven agriculture and its value chains across the entire continent, to ensure not only food security, but also economic and environmental benefits toward solving Africa’s nexus challenges of food insecurity, poverty, youth unemployment, environmental degradation and climate change. This innovative and participatory approach, premised on decentralization and generating continental ownership & buy-in holds great promise of progress in solving the continents food & livelihood security challenges, climate resilience as well as achievement of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) toward sustainable and inclusive economic growth in Africa.
To this end, the conference deliberations were organized around key agents that can transform dominant agricultural development paradigms towards EBA-driven agriculture. This was tackled under the following core themes: harnessing EBA to protect and restore Africa’s ecosystems and contribute to reduction in postharvest losses; building scalable and inclusive business models for EBA-driven agriculture that can create opportunities across the entire agricultural value chain; identifying scalable and innovative financing models for EBA-driven agriculture to stimulate growth, job creation and value chain partnerships in Africa; understanding the role of south-south cooperation in harnessing EBA for food security in Africa; identifying and harnessing the role of education, ICTs and data in transforming EBA agriculture in Africa; identifying and harnessing the role of youth and women in upscaling EBA agriculture; identifying enabling policies and legislation that will incentivize countries to invest in agriculture, soil conservation and EBA; and developing strategies to incentivize private sector involvement in EBA-driven agriculture for increased capital mobilization and competitiveness.
Africa’s historic moment
On 31st July, delegates made history by unanimously, through consensus, adopting the “Nairobi Action Agenda on Africa’s Ecosystem Based Adaptation for Food Security” and the “Constitution of the Ecosystem Based Adaptation for Food Security Assembly,” two landmark instruments to facilitate the EBA for food security assembly. Through this assembly, ownership of the process of upscaling the holistic EBA paradigm is decentralized beyond conference rooms and bureaucratic red tape directly to the action area – the country and community levels, where much needed action has been long overdue. This will be achieved through a spoke and hub analogy, where the assembly is hosted on rotation by countries across Africa, and progress, lessons and developments in implementation and upscaling is reported by the assembly to the assembly secretariat that plays the coordination role and overall progress oversight across the continent.
To this end, the three main objectives for the assembly elucidated in the constitution include: promoting environmentally friendly approaches to food production; promoting value addition for all EBA products by efficient technologies; and developing a regional monitoring instrument and evaluation instruments on EBA.
Furthermore, an additional landmark provision in the constitution is the setting up of a Trust Fund to support upscaling activities and provide a platform for voluntary contributions from members, observers and partners.
New era in Africa’s food security
The transformative approach, bringing under one policy framework, the key players involved in enhancing Africa’s food security using ecological approaches hence harmonizing efforts signifies a new era in applying ecological approaches to agricultural productivity in Africa’s food security solutions space. It creates a conducive environment for a participatory, joint-effort approach that promises to be more effective in upscaling into policy and practice, ecological approaches to achieving Africa’s food security. With the structured decentralization of implementation, fostered through instruments ratified in this conference, Africa’s destiny is in its own hands. Through this conference, Africans have been facilitated to take responsibility of their own socio-economic and environmental future through the lens of optimizing agricultural productivity through working with nature. Through this conference, a new page was turned, potentially guaranteeing Africa’s food security and socio-economic progress for posterity. As a journey of 1000 miles begins with one step, the birth is the pan Africa assembly provides an added step for prosperity. So Let us begin!