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New approaches for the future


A recent report has identified that improved irrigation could help mitigate the impacts of climate change in Africa

© John Hogg - World Bank

Three new reports focus on food systems and production in Africa to achieve food security and end malnutrition and poverty. Digital technologies, better policies and new farming approaches are all highlighted as means to achieve these aims.

Worldwide, too many people still face hunger as highlighted by the latest UN report on food security and nutrition – the total number of people suffering has increased to 830 million. Whilst most of these are undernourished, which is particularly severe in Africa, three quarters of obese children worldwide also live in Africa and Asia. According to three new reports, food and agricultural systems must urgently address these issues.

Agriculture in Africa presents insight into the state of agriculture on the continent, as well as giving recommendations for positive change. The first part of the report provides an overview of the sector, as well as key facts and figures – for example, only 6% of African arable land is irrigated, compared to 14 and 37% in Latin America and Asia, respectively. The latter half addresses the different topics introduced in the overview, whilst also including short interviews (e.g. with Nigeria’s Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development) and 2-page analysis articles. Areas identified for possible improvement include: increased fertiliser usage, improved irrigation to mitigate climate effects, precision agriculture, and greenfield investment.

Also outlining their strategy for the transformation of African agriculture is the African Development Bank (AfDB) in their report, Feed Africa. The report outlines how the Bank is working towards ending extreme poverty, eliminating hunger and malnutrition, making Africa a net exporter of agricultural commodities, and moving Africa to the top of key agricultural value chains. As part of AfDB’s ‘High 5’ focus areas for Africa – to light up and power, feed, integrate, industrialise, and improve people’s quality of life – this report demonstrates how the Bank is seeking to help convert African agriculture into a ‘business-oriented sector’ that is globally competitive. The report predicts that transforming commodity chains and agro-ecological zones will open up markets worth €76 billion per year by 2025.

Digital technologies also present an opportunity to transform Africa’s agricultural sector. Future of Food recognises that such technologies are already improving the information and engagement levels that consumers and producers seek, as well as delivering ‘smarter’ public services and farms. However, the authors acknowledge that adoption levels vary greatly and remind us that digital technologies have inherent risks, including service providers accumulating too much market power. But, the positive potential certainly outweigh the risks. In particular, the report states that digital technologies have a significant ability to improve the efficiency, equity and sustainability of food systems through the collection, storage, analysis and sharing of information digitally.

Agriculture in Africa 2019
By the Oxford Business Group & The OCP Group
OBG & OCP, 2019; 28 pp.

Feed Africa
By the African Development Bank Group
AfDB, 2019; 22 pp.

Future of Food: Harnessing Digital Technologies to Improve Food System Outcomes
By the World Bank Group
WBG, 2019; 44 pp.

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