Of Africa food sovereignty, climate change, GMO onslaught

African leaders once again gathered under one roof in Dakar, Senegal, to deliberate on the continent’s food systems and resilience in agriculture

FROM January 25 to 27, 2023, African leaders once again gathered under one roof in Dakar, Senegal, to deliberate on the continent’s food systems and resilience in agriculture. This was the chance to take stock, evaluate missed opportunities and map the way forward.

This occasion also became the platform to examine the continent’s resilience-building processes and sustainability, especially in the face of climate change, genetically modified organism (GMO) foods production, lack of mechanisation and Africa’s apparent surrendering of its own food sovereignty.

This gathering came at a very difficult time as everything negative is pointing towards Africa’s food systems recovery path.

The theme for the summit was Feed Africa: Food Sovereignty and Resilience, had the following objectives: To mobilise and align governments’ resources towards food production, remove barriers to agricultural development aided by new investments, link with development partners and promote private sector financing in order to unleash Africa’s food potential.

All this in the hope of raising agricultural productivity and supporting infrastructure, introducing climate smart agricultural systems, while promoting private sector-investments along the food value chains to help turn Africa into a breadbasket for the world.

On paper, these are instrumental and sufficiently guiding objectives. Unfortunately, however, one of the important thematic pillars: Food sovereignty, appears to have been downplayed.

Of course, it is not a secret that Africa can transform itself into the breadbasket of the world if everything was adding up and if wishes were horses since the continent has failed to revolutionise its food production capacity for centuries.

This is despite the continent having some of the best soils, climate and industrious populace, which, unfortunately, is helping quadruple food production in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand, among others.

It is significant in this regard to unpack the terms food sovereignty, food security, resilience and food justice, among others. Food sovereignty can be viewed as a political agenda on how to address inadequate access to food and land rights, while food security is a concept that describes a condition regarding access to adequate food. Although these terms are not synonymous in holistic terms, scope and context, they, however, strongly relate to each other.

Within the context of food sovereignty, there is focus on national self-sufficiency in food production, focusing on the rights of nations to determine local self-sufficiency, focusing on the rights of the local people. This also includes the rights of women and disadvantaged groups, as well as consensus building and democratic choices.

As far as these are concerned, that is where the tiff begins because lack of food democratisation and decolonisation lead to food injustices which I shall unpack in this unfolding discussion.

Resilience is the ability of a nation to bounce back and recover, build strong infrastructure and institutions for sustainable development. Building a mindset of resilience to withstand adversity in food systems, climate change and civil wars is also the continent’s major undoing.

A closer analysis of the objectives and the framework of the Africa Food Summit shows that there are lots of commitments being envisaged such as private sector actors committing to the development of critical value chains, while central bank governors and ministers of finance will commit to the development of financing arrangements to implement food and agricultural delivery components.

These commitments are a good start, but they are just pledges, hence more action is needed because the continent remains weak in value-addition, beneficiation and critical value chains. This is because the continent’s food systems are yet to deal sufficiently with food losses and waste, post-harvest losses and toxins.

Africa is quite strong in producing horticultural products, most of which are lost through perishing and contamination because of lack of on-site processing plants to convert the products into finished goods.

Therefore, the concept of value chains has been lacking to help transform lives, situations and living standards to the extent of nations ending up importing tomato sauce, soups and other food ingredients that have been manufactured using lots of carbon emissions.

Africa’s population, which currently stands at 1,4 billion people, continues to lie at the mercy of former colonialists’ benevolence in terms of food security or lack of it. When visualising food systems, it is best to foreground this in terms of crops, plants, small and big livestock, seeds, agricultural land, vegetables, fertilisers, agro-based chemicals and water security, among others. The topic is so wide that it cannot be discussed in three days, but typical of Africa, everything is possible not withstanding any aligned repercussions. 

It is also paramount to note that sustainable development goal (SDG2) 2 (Zero hunger) is not an end to itself, hence it cannot be discussed in isolation. SDG 2 needs to be integrated with other SDGs like 1 (No poverty), 3 (Health and Well-being), 4 (Quality education), 5 (Gender equality), 12 (Responsible consumption) and 13 (Climate action), among others. In this regard, food security and sovereignty play important roles in achieving the goal development agenda 2030.

It also contributes to targets set to achieve some SDG actions like disaster and disaster-risk reduction, important in dealing with natural disasters that impact on food systems and livelihood options. Then there is Agenda 2063, the Africa we want, focusing on what is existing by improving on it for sustainability — while foregrounding resilience, especially through learning from other global countries and other drivers of sustainable change elsewhere.

One thing the continent needs to do is to situate, at the heart of its food systems is learning to work together with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the private sector in good faith.

Currently, theirs is a cat and mouse relationship, but surprisingly African governments and NGOs need each other when it comes to such gatherings as the Africa Food Summit. In this regard, who will be fooling who?

A resilient mindset is required to drive Africa’s growth and its ability to recollect itself and recover from the colonial hangover and this will largely determine how it charts its resilient building efforts.

Resilience building is a process, not an event and it is in Africa’s interests to walk the path and not just focus on the end.

Sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, is feeling the adverse impacts of climate change, which has led to poor harvests, water stress, violent floods, extreme heat and cyclones, hence the continent needs to mitigate rather than politicise. It is important for the continent to map out how it can prepare for similar disasters in future.

The continent also has to come out clean and deal with the GMO food onslaught, loss and damage and climate change adaptation in order to build resilience.

Africa’s health systems are closely linked to the preservation of indigenous plants and farming systems through the promotion of agro-ecology. We are what we eat, therefore, the Alliance of Food Sovereignty Africa should go an extra mile to defend the sovereignty of the continent’s food systems.

Classifying food stuff as either wild, native, exotic or quality, will further colonise global food regimes and injustices.

  • Peter Makwanya is a climate change communicator. He writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted on: [email protected]


Related Topics