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Building Sustainable and Resilient Food Systems in Africa

Globally, 2021 is a critical year for recovery and food system transformation. If we do not transform our food systems, we will hardly attain the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly ending hunger. In this decade, Africa will need to chart clear pathways and identify concrete actions that can build sustainable and resilient food systems. Food systems that can deliver sufficient and nutritious food to feed the 256 million food insecure people on the continent. Food systems that are environmentally sustainable and can reverse the trend in deforestation and soil degradation. Food systems that create dignified jobs and shared prosperity for African youth now entering the labor market at a rate of 11 million per year with only 25 percent getting employed.

Africa is making progress. In the first two decades of the 21st century, Sub-Sahara Africa (SSA) has changed rapidly and many of these improvements, including those in gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, poverty rates, health, life expectancy, education, and agriculture have been mutually reinforcing. The region has achieved the highest rate of growth in agricultural production value (crops and livestock) of any region in the world since 2000 expanding by 4.3 percent per year in inflationadjusted US dollars (USD) between 2000 and 2018, roughly double that of the prior three decades. The world average over the same period was 2.7 percent per year (World Bank, 2021). Agricultural value added per worker in real 2010 USD rose from $846 in 2000 to $1,563 in 2019, a 3.2 percent annual growth rate.

While the region has made impressive progress since 2000, African food systems remain fragile. Roughly 75 percent of the agricultural production growth came from the expansion of area under cropland, and only 25 percent from crop yield improvements.

In the downstream stages of the food system, the prospect of a single market under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) with more than a billion consumers and a combined GDP of more than U$2.5 trillion presents vast opportunities for agribusiness. Investment in Africa’s agrifood system is no longer simply the preserve of multinational companies. African-owned enterprises are expanding their footprint. However, Africa’s food value chains are largely fragmented with most marketed food output such as grains, tubers, and pulses going through under-capitalized informal markets. The vast majority (over 80 percent) of those employed in these food systems are involved in small-scale trading or transporting; their businesses are generally seasonal operations and many of them live near or below the poverty line.

In this decade, the African Union (AU)-led Africa

Common Position to the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS)1 underscores the urgent need for sustainability and resilience as a means of achieving food systems transformation. The Africa Agriculture Status Report 2021 (AASR21) provides evidence and insights on the prospects of achieving resilience and sustainability in Africa’s food systems. The Report identifies immediate actions and steps that African governments, Pan-African organizations, development partners and the private sector need to take to build a food system with the (i) ability to self-organize and adapt in response to tipping-points and ever-changing landscapes; and (ii) the capacity to preserve and increase the welfare of current and future generations.

As in prior years, AASR21 is the product of intense scholarly work on the core chapters that I hope will stimulate intense discussion and a productive synthesis of ideas that will lead us forward in our ongoing work. Unlike prior years, this year’s report aimed to elevate the African voice by involving a diverse set of African experts with proven track records and a wealth of experience.Through the AASR, AGRA and its partners can take pride in amplifying African voices to address the challenges of building a resilient and sustainable agri-food system over the next decade in the context of AU Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) Malabo targets, the SDGs, and Africa Agenda 2063. I am most grateful to the contributors and to a truly exceptional set of external reviewers for their professionalism and guidance.

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