How can a food crisis be avoided in Africa?

As food prices soar across the world, can the African agriculture sector provide solutions?


Image : Riccardo Niels Mayer / Adobe Stock

Food prices are soaring across the world

Before the Russia-Ukraine war, global food prices were already rising, driven by factors such as climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic.

The war in Ukraine is exacerbating existing problems

Current food price volatility, fuelled by the conflict in Ukraine, risks reversing development progress and making it more difficult to attain food and nutrition security goals in many countries that are already experiencing high levels of food and nutrition insecurity.

Underlying factors driving the crisis across Africa

  • Effects of Covid-19: African households have less money to purchase food.
  • Disrupted supply chains: Reduction of Africa’s ability to import food.
  • Disruption of local agriculture: Food production in upcoming harvests predicted to fall.
  • Disruption of logistics: Trucking capacity reduced due to restrictions.

Yet Africa contains 60% of the world's uncultivated land

According to the FAO, Africa contains nearly 60% of the world’s uncultivated agricultural land and there is a potential 30-50% production boost across Africa by improving yields. One day, Africa could feed the world.

What can be done?

Endorse the agricultural transformation agenda of African countries

"The key insight from agricultural development in developing countries in recent years is that in order to build resilience, the international community needs to change its approach. It cannot remain too narrowly focused on direct, short-term support to farmers. Rather, it has to support the development of local markets and of government systems," writes Jonathan Said of the Tony Blair Institute on the AGRA website.

To do this successfully, he says, "it is essential to fully back the agriculture transformation agenda of African governments. This means tailoring financial and technical assistance, as well as investment facilitation efforts that create business opportunities for other countries, to fully back agricultural value chains and markets that are prioritised by the host government."

And such support needs to go beyond working only within the sphere of farm production – "It needs to extend to sectors such as rural infrastructure, agro-processing, access to finance, land, investment, agtech solutions and skills."

Learning lessons from the last food crisis

Dr Agnes Kalibata, president of AGRA, says the following lessons should be learned from the food crisis of 2007-08: 

· Allow food to be traded and attack non-tariff barriers that are the most serious limitations to trade. 

· Give farmers access to productive, climate smart seeds, the knowledge they need to become more productive, and innovative financial tools.

· Help them get their products to market. Millions of farmers can be lifted quickly this way.

· Soaring fertiliser prices must be addressed with urgent action to increase efficiency.

· Promote greater use of farmers’ traditional practices of regeneration and organic fertilisation.

· Governments should lead and coordinate, the private sector should target investment on proven solutions and unlock African farmers’ potential.

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