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African agri-food systems have resilience challenges

African agri-food systems have resilience challenges

African AFSs are widely regarded as underdeveloped, with shorter and weaker connections between parts of the system (AGRA, 2019). In terms of value chains, production on the farm still accounts for a large share of value added. In eastern and southern Africa – one of the only areas in Africa where the AFS has been measured – Tschirley et al., (2015) estimate that rural households grow over 50 percent of the food that they consume, and only 30 percent (by value) of food consumed is processed. By contrast, in Asia, 60 percent of rural household food expenditures by value were for processed food reflecting a significantly larger post-harvest value addition share. In the U.S, postharvest value addition is even larger as the US farm share of consumer food expenditures is only 5 percent. Development of off-farm value addition sectors could provide new and better jobs for Africa’s growing labor force as well as produce the food demanded by African consumers at a cheaper price thus enhancing household food security and resilience.

African countries and their respective AFSs will need even more resilience in the future if a sustainable development track is to be realized. The evidence is pointing to more, not less, uncertainty in the future for Africa and the world economy with the possibility of “multiple, intersecting system shocks” caused by the continual stress of climate change (GCA, 2020, IPCC, 2021). Climate change may be Africa’s biggest threat. Already, the continent has experienced major increases in dry months, extreme heat, and rainfall variability, as well as damage from heavier storms and excessive rainfall events and increased losses from plant and animal pests and disease. The best-case scenario, a two-degree Celsius rise in temperatures by 2050, is expected to reduce agricultural yields by up to 20 percent and reduce GDP growth by up to 30 percent if adaptive mitigation measures are not adopted. The potential damage is not confined to rural areas; low-lying coastal settlements, where population gains have been rapid, will also be negatively affected. Potential flooding and sea water incursion will affect whole value chains from farm to table to export. The capital investments needed to develop the downstream AFS will be more expensive owing to the need for increased resilience to extreme weather events. Urban and rural areas will compete for scarce water resources. Scenarios of higher temperatures project even more severe consequences. Meanwhile, global mobility combined with encroaching urbanization has expanded Africa’s and the world’s vulnerability to zoonotic diseases, raising the threat of future pandemics.

To date, African AFSs have developed by mainly relying on the expansion of cropped area but as demonstrated by rising land prices in many parts of Africa, this process has reached its limit (Jayne et al., 2021b). Another symptom of this impending threat is growing conflict between farmers and pastoralists where land and water are scarce (Chapter 3). There is a growing awareness of the need to increase the productivity of land already under cultivation and to do so in ways that are sustainable and profitable for smallholder farmers (Jayne et al., 2021b). Resilience will need to be a prominent feature of AFS development.

Weak government effectiveness hinders poor countries’ capacity to develop and implement a resilience strategy. This begins with averting violence by keeping peace and protecting property. At the national level, taxes and fees must be collected and budget priorities set with resources allocated to resilience investments as part of a transformation strategy. An effective public sector response may be needed to ensure collective action and/or participation. For example, in the case of many animal or crop diseases, all farmers in an area must vaccinate their animals or spray their fields to prevent re-transmission. Mitigation investments, even if privately funded or operated, may require collective action at the community level (e.g., maintaining an irrigation or water supply system). Ensuring food security, including efficiently providing aid to victims of extreme weather events, requires an effective administrative system. Most importantly, regulatory capacity must be built so that society can trust that the measures they use to manage their own vulnerabilities will be supported by the public sector (e.g., they will not lose the savings they have in the bank, no one will be able to arbitrarily confiscate their property, and they will be able to convert their health insurance premiums into health care when needed).

In sum, African countries and their respective AFSs need resilience now more than ever to face current and potential future challenges while sustainably developing their economies, improving welfare for all. These urgent concerns are the motivation for the policy-relevant and evidence-based insights continued in this 2021 AASR. Subsequent chapters in this publication trace how resilience and sustainability can be built in the African AFS from the farm to the firm to the table. But first, the nature of the resilience challenges Africa faces and the costs of not adapting to these challenges needs to be understood. This is the focus of the next chapter.


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