Dr. Kalibata Warns of Africa’s Looming Hunger Crisis; Urges Global Action

By Anthony Muchoki

In a compelling address, Dr. Agnes Kalibata, President of AGRA , shed light on the pressing need for a large-scale transformation of Africa’s agri-food systems. With urgency and passion, Dr. Kalibata detailed the challenges faced by the African continent and highlighted AGRA’s innovative roadmap to address these issues.

She was speaking on Sunday, 17 September 2023, at United Nations Headquarters, Conference Room 2, at a session that aimed to mobilize means of implementation to assist countries in the implementation of national pathways (Link toUNFSS+2 Report of the Secretary-General) and to expand commitments from Member States to prioritize their journey of food systems transformation.

“I really can’t help but recall what’s happening on the African continent,” began Dr. Kalibata. “Two to three Africans live in the agricultural sector, deriving their livelihood from a food system that’s unfortunately failing. Imagine the scenario where two to three mothers are struggling daily to feed their children. What’s happening, particularly in South Africa, is a poignant representation of this reality.”

The stakes are clear, and AGRA’s response post the Food System Summit is both targeted and ambitious. As Dr. Kalibata articulated, “Following the AGRF Summit, we at AGRA recognized the importance of aiding the continent in both understanding and initiating the design of investable food system plans. Our goal? To ensure that prospective investors have a tangible sense of the viable programs available, particularly those that can activate private sector resources.”

She further highlighted the daunting financial challenge faced by 20-25 African nations, which collectively require an investment of $10 billion to overhaul their food systems. However, as Dr. Kalibata astutely pointed out, “If you believe this sum is substantial, consider the alternative. Without meaningful transformation, we will spend 2.5 times this amount in humanitarian aid. We are currently allocating 50% of our investments to address food challenges and social protection. Can we shift the balance towards more tangible and sustainable investments?”

Dr. Kalibata also emphasized the importance of the soon-ending two-year Continental Free Trade Agreement framework. She envisions it as an opportunity for the continent, stating, “It’s a golden chance not just to rebuild, but to ground our strategies in the common position we’ve taken on food systems.”

AGRA’s transformative vision encompasses an understanding of Africa’s anticipated population growth, the predicted regions of concentration, and the subsequent implications on agriculture. “We need to delve into critical questions,” Dr. Kalibata mentioned. “Where will our people be? How will this demographic shift impact our agricultural practices? And how can we shape better agricultural methodologies?”

She also underscored the value of investing in Africa’s infrastructural framework, noting the potential of the approved free continental trade framework, which, if adequately funded, “could double trade within the continent.”

Highlighting AGRA’s strides, Dr. Kalibata shared, “We’ve transformed what was ‘Africa’s Green Revolution Forum’ into ‘Africa’s Largest Food System Forum’. Last week’s gathering aimed to bring the continent together, to agree and advocate for speedier, unified solutions.”

Dr. Kalibata presented a stark, thought-provoking projection: “Unless we recalibrate our approach, Africa, by 2055, stands at risk of being both the hungriest and poorest continent. Our goal isn’t merely survival. We need job creation, growth, and genuine development to make Africa an equal player on the global stage.”

Here is her full speech.

So, what is AGRA doing? I mean, to support the transformation of agri-food systems in Africa, and what are the main challenges, particularly where you think you know how we can do this at scale?

Dr. Agnes Kalibata: “Well, thank you so much. Here, I really can’t help but recall what the moderator started with, indicating what’s happening on the African continent. I mean, two to three Africans live in the agricultural sector in the food system, and they get their livelihood from the agricultural food system, which is failing. Two to three mothers are struggling to feed their children. So, that’s the reason what’s happening in South Africa is really real. So, what are we doing as AGRA, given the challenge we see? I mean, this stuff probably just called out three areas. One, following the Food System Summit, we decided that helping the continent understand the food system and start designing food system plans that are investible would be a good place to start to ensure that anyone looking to invest in that continent has a sense of the type of programs available, especially when it comes to unlocking private sector resources.

We now have 20 to 25 countries that, between them, need $10 billion to be able to transform their food system. If you think that this is a lot, if we don’t do it, we will spend two to two and a half times as much. We are already spending 50 percent of the investment we send out there in humanitarian support to these countries to deal with food challenges and social protection. IFAD and the World Bank have done a report to show that 50% of the development resources going out are going for social protection. So, we are already doing this stuff. The question is, can we start tilting the balance towards more investment so that there is an end in sight?

So, anyway, the next thing we are doing is trying to take advantage of the fact that in two years, the CAADP framework that Africa has set up is coming to an end. This is a huge opportunity for us to not only build a new kind of pre-market but to build it on the common position that the African continent has taken from a food systems perspective. In that, we are looking at the population, how the African population is going to be, where it’s going to be concentrated, how this is going to affect our ecology, and how we can design better ecologies. But more importantly, how do we take advantage of the three frameworks that are now approved and should be working?

We have an infrastructure framework for connecting Africa to Africa that is very under-invested. We have a free continental trade framework that has been approved, and if invested in, could double trade in Africa. And of course, we have the CAADP framework, which leads the Africa food system framework. A common position should define how we invest differently in the food system. So, the opportunities for investments are sitting there.

The last thing is that what we are doing from a convening perspective. We have transformed what used to be Africa’s Green Revolution Forum into Africa’s largest food system forum. Many of you were in this forum last week, and I really appreciate your support. But what this forum does is to really start bringing the continent together on critical issues and agreeing, advancing, and advocating for what we should be doing and how fast we can get there.

I mean, just speed. The speed we are currently using means that if we don’t do things differently, in 2055, just another 25 years, which is the framework of the CAADP that I’m talking about, Africa will be the hungriest continent, the poorest continent, and I don’t know if either Africa needs that or the rest of the world needs that because you all are spending so much more to keep people alive. We need to move from keeping people alive to creating jobs and advancing development on the African continent so that it can be an eco player.” Thank you.