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Opinion: Africa and the UN Food Systems Summit by Marshall Matz

This week the President of Kenya, H. E. Uhuru Kenyatta, and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, with its partners, will again host the Alliance for a Green Revolution Forum (AGRF).  It is of particular importance this year because it comes right before the UN Food Systems Summit, and they are both chaired by the same person, Dr. Agnes Kalibata of Rwanda.

As part of the contributions to the UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS), this year’s AGRF Summit, under the banner “Pathways to recovery and resilient food systems”, aims to elevate the single coordinated African voice to the UNFSS and identify immediate actions and steps that need to be taken to accelerate progress and recovery towards inclusive agricultural transformation.

AGRF Partners Group is a coalition of institutions that care about Africa’s agriculture transformation. The AGRF is the world’s premier forum for African agriculture, bringing together stakeholders in the agricultural landscape to take practical actions and share lessons that will move African agriculture forward. Under AGRF’s current strategy, the Forum is particularly focused on driving progress by 2025 as the priority commitment. African heads of state and governments have made a commitment to strengthen agricultural development as the centre of the continent’s overall development and progress.  The African Development Bank has shifted its focus to agriculture.

Why such a focus on Africa?  The answer, in short, is that is where most of the world’s under-cultivated and uncultivated land is located.  The challenge remains reaching the many smallholder farmers, who farm 2-10 acres, with certified seed, fertilizer, and education. Distribution is the missing link, along with education. Poor farmers need to be shown that spending their limited resources on certified seed is worth the investment. And reaching small holder farmers, down a dirt road and in a small village is not easy. 

The good news is that there has been progress; the bad news is that there is a long way to go.  Yields in Africa have gone (as a general matter) from one ton/hectare to two tons/hectare. One ton per hector equals approximately 20 bushels per acre.  So, currently the yields are 20-40 bushels per acre.  At 80 bushels per acre, farms start to become businesses.

The UN Secretary General announced the Food Systems Summit in 2019 because we were not, at that time, making progress to eliminating global hunger. Indeed, we were going backwards, and that was before the COVID pandemic. The Executive Director of the UN World Food Program, former South Carolina Governor, David Beasley, has said that more people are dying/will die in Africa from hunger than COVID. 

The AGRF is working in coordination with, and in preparation for, the UNFSS which will happen later this month on September 23. The United States is an active participant in the UNFSS.

Marshall Matz is Chairman of OFW Law in Washington, D.C. and has focused on global food security.

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