Africa must prepare for global food crisis: Adesina


African Development Bank Group president Akinwumi Adesina has said Africa must prepare for the inevitability of a global food crisis which requires an increased sense of urgency amid a “once-in-a-century convergence of global challenges for the continent”.

Speaking about Africa’s priorities, as a guest at the Atlantic Council’s Africa Centre on Friday, Adesina said the continent’s most vulnerable countries had been hit hardest by conflict, climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic, which had upended economic and development progress in Africa.

He said Africa, with the lowest GDP growth rates, had lost as many as 30m jobs on account of the pandemic.

Fielding questions from the Council’s Africa Centre Chair, Ambassador Rama Yade; Senior Fellow Aubrey Hruby; and Washington/UN correspondent for Jeune Afrique and The Africa Report, Julian Pecquet, the Bank chief said the Russia-Ukraine war’s ramifications spread across the world, including Africa.

He said Russia and Ukraine supply 30% of global wheat exports, the price of which has surged by almost 50% globally, reaching identical levels as during the 2008 global food crisis. Adesina added that fertiliser prices had tripled, and energy prices had increased, all fuelling inflation.

Adesina warned that the tripling costs of fertiliser, rising energy prices, and rising costs of food baskets, could worsen in Africa in the coming months.

He noted that 90% of Russia’s US$4bn exports to Africa in 2020 was made up of wheat; and 48% of Ukraine’s near US$3bn exports to the continent was made of wheat and 31% of maize.

Adesina cautioned that to fend off a food crisis, Africa must rapidly expand its food production.

“The African Development Bank is already active in mitigating the effects of a food crisis through the African Food Crisis Response and Emergency Facility – a dedicated facility being considered by the Bank to provide African countries with the resources needed to raise local food production and procure fertiliser.

“My basic principle is that Africa should not be begging. We must solve our own challenges ourselves without depending on others…”

The Bank chief spoke about early successes through the Bank’s innovative flagship initiative, Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) programme, a plan operating across nine food commodities in more than 30 African countries.

Adesina said TAAT has helped to rapidly boost food production at scale on the continent, including the production of wheat, rice and other cereal crops.

“We are putting our money where our mouth is. We are producing more and more of our own food. Our Africa Emergency Food Production Plan will produce 38 million metric tons of food,” he said. Adesina said TAAT had already delivered “heat-tolerant varieties of wheat to 1.8 million farmers in seven countries, increasing wheat production by over 1.4 million metric tons and a value of US$291m”.

According to Adesina, heat-tolerant varieties were now being planted across hundreds of thousands of hectares in Ethiopia and Sudan, with extraordinary results. In Ethiopia, where the government has put the TAAT programme to work in a 200,000-hectare lowland irrigated wheat program, farmers are reporting yields of 4.5 to five times per hectare. He said TAAT’s climate-smart seeds were also thriving in Sudan, which recorded its largest wheat harvest ever – 1.1 million tons of wheat – in the 2019-2020 season.

The AfDB chief added that TAAT came to the rescue during the drought in southern Africa in 2018 and 2019, deploying heat-tolerant maize varieties which were cultivated by 5.2m households on 841 thousand hectares. As a result, he said, farmers survived the drought in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia, allowing maize production to expand by 631,000 metric tons to a value of US$107m.

Asked about the outcomes for Africa of the global climate summit, COP26, in Glasgow last November, and how he foresaw prospects for success at COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt in 2022, Adesina expressed optimism. He said it was important for developed countries to make good on their promise to provide Africa with the US$100bn a year required for climate adaptation. Adesina said: “Our challenge is adaptation because we didn’t cause the problem. In Africa, we are adapting to climate change.”

He said the bank, together with its partner the Global Centre for Adaptation, was mobilizing US$25bn. UN secretary general Antonio Guterres has called climate financing to be split equally between climate mitigation and adaptation.

Today 67% of the bank’s climate financing goes towards adaption, Adesina said.

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