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‘Strengthening food systems must be at the centre of Africa’s COVID-19 recovery’

Strengthening food systems must be an integral part of efforts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and to build resilience in Africa, said African Development Bank (AfDB) director general for Southern Africa, Leila Mokaddem

Hunger is a greater threat to many Africans than the COVID-19 crisis, Mokaddem said in a session on sustainable food systems at the Southern Africa Impact Forum on 9 March.

“Africa must now urgently strengthen its food systems as an integral part of efforts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and to build resilience,” she said.

University of Pretoria vice-chancellor Tawana Kupe noted, “When they function well, food systems have the power to bring us together as families, communities and nations. But too many of the world’s food systems are fragile and vulnerable to collapse.”

Mokaddem outlined four areas in which the bank is working in partnerships to drive the food sector’s transformation: sustainably intensify the production of safe and nutritious food to meet demand; careful management of land, soils and water; increasing the contribution of local food producers and suppliers and reduction of post-harvest losses; and harnessing digital technologies to develop and drive food systems transformation.

“The AfDB is championing the Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT), a major continent-wide initiative designed to boost agricultural productivity across the continent by rapidly delivering proven technologies to millions of farmers,” she added.

Other initiatives that underscore the bank’s leadership role in the sector are its financing of Special Agro-Industrial Processing Zones to concentrate agro-processing activities within areas of high agricultural potential, as well as the promotion of climate-smart agriculture.

Removing barriers to agricultural development could spur a jump in Africa’s agricultural output from an annual US$280bn to US$1 trillion by 2030, Mokaddem said at the virtual event, where she represented AfDB's President Akinwumi A Adesina.

“AfDB is committed, in partnership with key stakeholders to supporting agricultural transformation and calls on governments, multilateral development banks and other development partners to support a technology development and delivery mechanism, required to achieve the transformation of African agriculture,” Mokaddem said.

The Southern Africa Impact Forum on sustainable development, held from 9-10 March, is hosted by Times Higher Education and the University of Pretoria. Participants included academics and representatives of the private sector, civil society and international agencies.