It is Time to Rethink Africa’s Food Systems to Feed the Cities – a Call for Commitment at the AGRF 2020 Summit

"We must not relent in our effort to transform food systems for the benefit of everyone and build stronger, resilient and more sustainable food systems.” - Dr. Agnes Kalibata, President of AGRA and Special Envoy to the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit

After an intense 4 days of activities featuring 57 sessions with more than 10,000 delegates, the AGRF Virtual Summit 2020 came to a close on September 11. The Summit’s Communiqué has finally been released and contains decisions and commitments from the Summit with a focus on the theme, Feed the Cities, Grow the Continent – Leveraging Urban Food Markets to Achieve Sustainable Food Systems in Africa. With Africa experiencing the world’s fastest urbanization rate, estimated to hit 60% of the continent’s population living in urban areas by 2030, food systems are going to play a critical role in sustaining cities.

Africa’s cities are currently grappling with food security issues, including malnutrition and undernourishment. The Communique notes that about two hundred million children in urban areas are grappling with extreme poverty and its effect, and Africans are both going hungry and suffering obesity rates of as high as 60%. Without re-thinking and streamlining African food systems, the situation is likely to worsen as Africa rapidly urbanizes. To this end, this year’s AGRF was focused around four outcomes:

I. Food Systems: improve existing food systems by introducing more efficient systems to utilize our resources and adapt these to the needs of the growing cities;

II. Nutrition: provide nutritious and accessible diets to feed 1 billion people in African cities by 2040;

III. Resilience: build back better following the COVID-19 pandemic and prepare for ongoing shocks, such as climate change, hunger and civil unrest;

IV. Markets and Trade: jumpstart the African free trade agreement from an agricultural perspective and strengthen agri-food data systems to foster evidence-based policies and predictability.

Transforming Africa’s food systems holds a lot of promise, not just for food security, but also driving equitable and sustainable growth across the continent. The different sessions at the summit highlighted the potential of streamlined food systems, envisioning the potential of agricultural transformation to spur growth on the continent. Several high-level segments held at the Summit called for action and made commitments in different areas:

• The launch of the Africa Agriculture Status Report (AASR) 2020 called for an urgent need for urban food systems planning and governance reforms, including: improved urban food system governance; efficient urban wholesale markets; food safety regulation and enforcement; regional free trade and agricultural policy harmonization, and; agricultural research focused on high-growth, high-value food commodities.

• At the Presidential Summit, leaders including Heads of States shed light on the progress they are making and made commitments including the delivery of the AU’s Malabo Declaration and realization of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). 

• The High-Level Ministerial Roundtable called for investment in agriculture and food systems and committed to making progress towards the implementation of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) and the Continental Agri-Food Policy under the AfCFTA Framework.

• The Agribusiness Deal Room hit new records presenting a pipeline of approximately five billion USD in Agri-business investment commitments.

• The first-ever Farmer’s Forum at the Summit called for the involvement of farmers in designing the future of Africa’s food system; empowerment of smallholder farmers; and placing farmers at the heart of policy processes and national budgeting processes.

• In a demonstration of the youths’ critical role in Africa’s food systems, Rwanda’s President, H.E. Paul Kagame, hosted the Youth Townhall calling on young people to use their innovative spirit to ensure agriculture serves as the basis for Africa’s transformation. 

In addition to the above commitments made during the high-level segments, all the other sessions and events called for action and commitments from all players in Africa’s food systems to ensure the food systems of the rapidly urbanizing continent are stronger, resilient, and more sustainable, and at the centre of Africa’s transformation and growth. The Summit is not just a 4-day event, throughout the year, AGRF will continue to advocate for action and coordinate its members through 10 thematic platforms and working groups who set a long-term strategy and annual work plan that includes but also extends beyond the annual AGRF event to achieve specific outcomes.

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