In a resounding call to action, African governments are being urged to accelerate the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) as a powerful weapon against the pressing issue of food insecurity, which continues to afflict more than 20 percent of the continent’s 1.4 billion people. The faster rollout of AfCFTA and robust support for the agricultural value chain emerged as key recommendations from a high-profile gathering of over 200 ministers, economists, and private sector leaders from Central and Eastern Africa.
The Confluence of Minds in Bujumbura
From September 26-29, the Intergovernmental Committee of Senior Officials and Experts (ICSOE), convened by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), convened in Bujumbura, Burundi. This influential assembly deliberated on strategies to enhance manufacturing capabilities and bolster food security in Central and East Africa, with a vision to position these sub-regions as preferred investment destinations.
A Daunting Challenge
Startling statistics from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reveal that about 20 percent of Africa’s population grapples with undernourishment. Even more concerning is that over 62 percent of the undernourished individuals in sub-Saharan Africa call Central and Eastern Africa home. In the face of such dire circumstances, the urgency to act cannot be overstated.
Empowering Smallholder Farmers
A rallying cry emerged from the meeting: governments must step up their support for smallholder farmers, the backbone of Africa’s agriculture. This support extends to addressing the staggering food waste issue, which accounts for approximately 40 percent of all harvests across African nations. Rwanda’s Minister of Trade and Industry, Jean-Chrysostome Ngabitsinze, emphasized that one way to bolster farmer productivity is through skills enhancement. He stressed that governments should proactively devise programs, plans, and strategies to support agricultural extension services, which have been overshadowed by research initiatives.
Unlocking Agricultural Potential
Hanan Morsy, Deputy Executive Director and Chief Economist at the ECA, underscored the critical role of agricultural productivity in Africa. With 60 to 70 percent of the continent’s population depending on agriculture, investing in this sector becomes paramount. Morsy emphasized that Africa possesses immense potential not only to feed its own citizens but also to become a global agricultural powerhouse, given its abundant arable land.
Burundi’s Minister of Trade, Marie Chantal Nijimbere, believes that the challenges plaguing Africa’s agriculture sector, such as mechanization, technology adoption, and access to inputs, can be surmounted. She called for the implementation of policies and strategies aimed at enhancing productivity across states.
A Vision for Progress
Among the multifaceted recommendations stemming from the Bujumbura meeting is the imperative need to stimulate intraregional trade, setting the stage for a liberalized continental single market for goods and services. Delegates also advocated for harmonized standards for food trade, enhanced food safety measures, streamlined customs services, and simplified cross-border procedures. Moreover, improving connectivity, logistics, and infrastructure received resounding support.
Unlocking the Power of the Private Sector
The private sector’s pivotal role in agriculture was emphasized, with a keen focus on profitability and promoting investments in infrastructure, harmonized standards, and trade. This collaborative approach between governments and private enterprises holds the key to transformative change in Africa’s agricultural landscape.
The clarion call to harness the potential of AfCFTA as a catalyst for combatting food insecurity reverberates across the continent. Africa stands at a pivotal juncture where unity, innovation, and collaborative efforts can reshape the future of food production, ensuring not only sustenance but prosperity for its people. As governments and stakeholders rally behind the recommendations from the Bujumbura meeting, the promise of a food-secure, economically vibrant Africa comes into sharper focus. AfCFTA is not just an agreement; it’s a lifeline for millions.
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