Agriculture as the ‘new oil’ for Africa

Doaa A. Moneim , Friday 3 Feb 2023

Africa must be at the centre of plans to deal with global food insecurity, participants at the Dakar 2 Summit in Senegal said this week.

Agriculture as the  new oil  for Africa
Agriculture as the new oil for Africa


Amid concerns about global food security on the back of climate change and the consequences of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the world’s attention is shifting to Africa and its potential as a global food basket for the rest of the globe, concluded the participants at the Dakar 2 Summit held earlier this week in Senegal.

They called Africa’s agriculture sector the “new oil” for the continent and the rest of the world, asserting that it was time for Africa to feed itself and the rest of the globe.

Over three days from 25 to 27 January, the summit, held under the chairmanship of President of Senegal and Chair of the African Union Macky Sall and co-organised by the Senegal government and African Development Bank (AfDB), discussed the theme of “Feed Africa: Food Sovereignty and Resilience”.

The high-level summit, held first in 2015, aims to develop a strategic roadmap for agricultural transformation in Africa to build a solid and sustainable agricultural sector for food security, youth employment, poverty alleviation, and rural transformation across the continent.

While gains have been made in recent years in agricultural growth in several countries, the continent remains over-dependent on food imports. Africa currently imports over 100 million metric tons of food, valued at $75 billion annually.

“Over 283 million Africans go to bed hungry every day. This is not acceptable. No mother should ever have to struggle with the rumbling of the stomach of a hungry child,” AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina said during the event.

Adesina noted that Africa can and must feed itself, as 65 per cent of the uncultivated arable land left in the world is in Africa. What Africa does with agriculture will determine the future of food, he said.

He added that recent disruptions in global food supplies had revealed Africa’s vulnerabilities on food. In order to mitigate the effects of the war in Ukraine on Africa’s food security, the AfDB has launched a $1.5 billion Africa Emergency Food Production Facility, which has approved operations for 34 countries.

The facility is now supporting 20 million farmers in Africa to produce 38 million metric tons of food worth $12 billion.

The AfDB also announced during the summit a commitment of $10 billion over the next five years to boost Africa’s efforts to end hunger and become a primary food provider for itself and the rest of the world.

It called on more than 34 heads of state, 70 government ministers, the private sector, farmers, development partners, and corporate executives to work out compacts that would deliver food and agriculture transformation at scale across Africa.

“We have no choice, as time is not on our side. The population of Africa will rise to two billion by 2050, and they must be fed. We must take decisive actions now to secure their food supplies. Achieving this will require more productive, efficient, competitive, dynamic, and environmentally sustainable food systems,” Adesina said.

 “We must strongly support farmers, especially smallholder farmers, the majority of whom are women, and get more young people into agriculture. And we must take agriculture as a business, not a development activity, and boost support to the private sector. We must make agriculture and agribusiness attractive to youth.”

According to the AfDB, the size of the food and agriculture market in Africa will rise to $1 trillion by 2030.

Adesina said that agriculture must become Africa’s new wealth and efforts must be pushed forward towards reinforcing regional trade in food and agriculture, especially with the Africa Continental Free Trade Area, as well as promoting food and agriculture trade with the rest of the world.

Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly, Adesina said that the AfDB was in talks with the Egyptian authorities about tackling food commodity shortages and supporting the country’s efforts regarding agricultural development.

Egypt is the world’s largest wheat importer with a total of 12 to 13 million tons imported annually.

According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the prices of wheat and sunflower oil have escalated due to Egypt’s reliance on Russia and Ukraine for 85 per cent of its wheat supply and 73 per cent of its sunflower oil.

Egypt has launched its pioneering Nexus of Water, Food and Energy (NWFE) programme as a model to be followed on the continental and global level and comprising nine projects for a total cost of $14.7 billion. Five projects are in the food pillar part of the programme, costing a combined total of $3.3 billion over eight years (2023-2030).

Adesina told the Weekly that the bank has doubled its finances for Egypt’s NWFE programme from $1.6 billion to $3.6 billion.


EGYPTIAN PARTICIPATION: Egypt participated in the summit with a delegation representing the ministries of international cooperation and agriculture in order to indicate what regional partners and international financial institutions can do to support the country amid the ongoing economic crisis.

During a side event on Food and Agriculture Delivery Compacts, Egypt showed that the total cultivated area with wheat in the country had reached 1.5 million hectares and total national production increased to 10 million metric tons (MMT) in the last growing season 2021-22.

Nevertheless, total wheat consumption had reached 20.6 MMT in 2022, and the wheat gap had reached 10.6 MMT in the same season. The yield potential of newly developed wheat varieties in Egypt exceeded 7.5 tons/hectare.

The delegation shed light on the government’s plan to achieve 70 per cent of self-sufficiency in wheat by 2030, in addition to the challenges that could hinder it from reaching such a goal.

These challenges include the impacts on food security of the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the Covid-19 pandemic as well as the implications of rapid population growth, water scarcity, the limitation of arable land, soil degradation and the disaggregation of land ownership.

Climate change also poses other major threats such as salinisation, waterlogging, water shortages, and sea-level rises.

The plan, which is set to be executed under the NWFE programme, aims to add 10.6 million tons of wheat, 10.5 million tons of maize, 5.5 million tons of rice, and 1.5 million tons of sorghum to Egypt’s production.

It focuses on critical areas that need financing, including projects on improving wheat productivity, automation, and the upgrading of seed-processing units, as well as the improving of the wheat value chain and increasing storage capacity.

The plan is designed to be a public-private partnership (PPP) with 28 per cent to be covered by public investments, while the private sector would contribute the lion’s share of the investments at 72 per cent.

The Russia-Ukraine war has caused serious food challenges worldwide, as energy, fertilisers, and food prices have risen by 40 to 300 per cent, according to AfDB estimates.

Africa, which imports 30 million metric tons of food from Russia and Ukraine, has suddenly found itself with rising food prices endangering its already fragile food security. Food insecurity in Africa has been further worsened by climate change, which costs the continent between $7 and $15 billion annually.

The recent waves of droughts in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel, locust swarms, and the rising number of displaced people or refugees from climate change and conflicts have also aggravated the situation.

The summit concluded with the publication of the Dakar Declaration on Food Sovereignty and Resilience (Dakar2), which stresses that achieving UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 on zero hunger cannot be achieved unless it is achieved in Africa.

It said that the AfDB’s planned investment of $10 billion and a further $20 billion by several other partners in support of Africa’s agricultural transformation as catalysed by the Country Food and Agriculture Delivery Compacts could make a major difference.

According to the declaration, the summit participants agreed on establishing presidential delivery councils to oversee the implementation of the compacts discussed during the summit, supporting the implementation of these with time-bound and clearly measurable indicators for success, including concrete national policies, incentives, and regulations to establish an enabling environment for wider and accelerated investments across the agriculture sector.

The participants also reached a consensus on mobilising internal and external financing for these compacts from a broad range of bilateral and multilateral partners and the private sector and increasing financing from national budgets to support them in line with the Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods by allocating at least 10 per cent of public expenditure to agriculture.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 2 February, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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