PUBLISHED ON October 5th, 2023

African govts urged to leverage AfCFTA to tackle food insecurity

African governments have been urged to fast-track the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in order to solve food security issues that affect more than 20 per cent of the continent’s 1.4 billion people.

The faster implementation of the AfCFTA and supporting the agricultural value chain are two of the key recommendations of a meeting of more than 200 ministers, economists, and private sector players from Central and Eastern Africa, which was held from September 26-29 in Bujumbura, Burundi.

Known as the Intergovernmental Committee of Senior Officials and Experts (ICSOE), the meeting organised by the United Nations Economic Community for Africa (ECA), discussed ways to improve manufacturing and food security in Central and East Africa and how to position the two sub-regions as preferred investment destinations.

About 20 per cent of Africa’s population is undernourished. Over 62 per cent of the undernourished in sub-Saharan Africa live in Central and Eastern Africa, according to 2021 figures from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

According to the meeting’s report seen by The New Times, the leaders also called for government support for smallholder farmers and strong measures to reduce food waste which stands at around 40 per cent of all harvest in African countries.

Rwanda’s Minister of Trade and Industry Jean-Chrysostome Ngabitsinze, who took part in the meeting said one of the ways farmers can be supported is through skills enhancement.

“To improve productivity, we have to think differently and make sure that we don’t leave agriculture to the farmers only. Governments must make sure that we have programmes, plans, and strategies to support extension in agriculture,” said Ngabitsinze, who is also an agricultural economist.

“Extension is key. People need to go house to house to explain how to use certain technologies in order to increase the produce. We have a problem today because we have replaced extension with research. We want to produce PhD holders in seed multiplication but we don’t train people to go to the farm to teach people how to plant those seeds.”

ECA’s Deputy Executive Director and Chief Economist, Hanan Morsy, said agricultural productivity in Africa should be one of the key priorities of all the stakeholders in the sector, on which 60 to 70 per cent of the continent’s population depends.

“Africa has a huge potential to not only feed African citizens but also to export to the rest of the world,” she said.

Morsy noted that beyond food security, a productive agriculture sector has the potential to drive economic growth and the improvement of living standards in Africa, which has about 70 per cent of the world’s arable land.

For Burundi’s Minister of Trade Marie Chantal Nijimbere, the current bottlenecks holding back Africa’s agriculture are not impossible to be sorted out.

“The challenges that Africa faces in terms of mechanisation and use of agricultural technology and inputs can be dealt with if all states implement policies and strategies that seek to improve productivity,” she said.

Among other recommendations, the delegates at the Bujumbura meeting highlighted the need to boost intraregional trade to prepare the ground for a liberalised continental single market for goods and services.

They called for the harmonisation of standards for food trade requirements, food safety, customs services, and cross-border procedures as well as a focus on improving connectivity, logistics, and infrastructure.

They also encouraged private sector involvement in agriculture, with a focus on profitability and the promotion of investments in infrastructure, harmonised standards, and trade.

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