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Africa imports $35 billion worth of food a year

Africa is still suffering from its inability to meet the challenge of food self-sufficiency, despite its enormous agricultural potential, which should enable it to emerge from dependence on food aid and save millions of people from starvation. This issue was discussed at the seventh edition of the African Leadership Forum in Accra, Ghana. Politicians from across the continent are reflecting on how to unleash the continent’s agricultural potential by promoting intra-African trade.

Africa has seen an increase in average agricultural productivity of 13% per year between 2015 and 2020. Not enough to meet the challenges of its development. According to AfDB estimates, agricultural production is set to triple by 2030, from $280 billion a year to $1,000 billion. To achieve this goal, Africa’s agricultural potential must be exploited to the full. This means removing obstacles to agricultural development, mobilizing the necessary investments along the entire food value chain, and applying best practices.

“There are best practices that can be scaled up in our continent. The problem with us is that we are not coming together and learning from lessons to bring  about productive capacity in our countries. So I think we need to invest in agriculture as the basis of any development.”

Hailemariam Desalegn, Former Prime MinisterEthiopia

The continent’s economic and regional integration is an asset that should encourage efforts to develop intensive and industrial agriculture. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA) is a tool for guaranteeing the flow of production between the 47 states that have ratified the AFCFTA agreement. For former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, Africa’s agricultural potential can flourish if the term “agriculture” is changed to “agri-business”. Agri-business has the advantage of developing the sector’s value chain, from land preparation to production and the means of production. This should encourage the emergence of a more dynamic and productive sector. 

“I believe we should stop talking of agriculture but instead of agri-business. When you talk of agri-business, you take everything together. I would not want to continue to remain in producing crops or products that will go to Europe to add value and send back here.We in West Africa and Central Africa produce more that 75% of cocoa in the world. South Africa does not produce cocoa but they eat chocolate. Why can the cocoa we produce in Ghana and cote d’ivoire be turned into chocolate and be sent to Kenya and Tanzania, to South Africa without going to Switzerland.”

Olusegun Obasanjo, Former head of stateNigeria

Africa has almost 600 million hectares of uncultivated arable land. This represents 60% of the world’s total uncultivated arable land. This potential, if properly exploited, should make it possible not only to meet the urgent challenge of achieving food self-sufficiency on the continent, but also to feed the planet and thus significantly stimulate its economic growth. Yet the continent imports around $35 billion worth of foodstuffs every year, according to the AfDB, despite this enormous potential. In the opinion of former Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam, this problem is also due to the quality of partnerships, which are not conducive to local industrial production.

“Our partners should not come for food aid, they should support us to come up with production and increase our production capacity. You can see that billions and billions of dollars are invested in food aid and emergency and all kinds of things and people are waiting for emergencies to come and to support billions of dollars rather than investing in our production capacity. I think we have to make sure that we are engaging with our partners in terms of having such a kind of engagement.”

Hailemariam Desalegn, Former Prime MinisterEthiopia

Unlocking the continent’s agricultural potential is a must if we are to achieve the objectives of the Agenda 2030 of the African Union. But it’s also a major challenge, given the continent’s infrastructure shortcomings. Unlocking the continent’s agricultural potential, which should also create jobs, reduce poverty, generate equitable growth and transform the region’s economies, is the foundation of a strong and prosperous Africa, given that the agricultural sector is an important pillar for growth.


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