Since the start of the pandemic, many voices have been raised to rebuild a fairer and more sustainable world. However, this will only be possible if we invest in the rural populations of Africa and other continents.
The 500 million small farms in the world support between 2 and 3 billion people. In sub-Saharan Africa, small farms produce more than 70% of the region’s food calories, and nearly 60% of the working population derives their income from agriculture.
These women, men and young people who feed the continent are the first to suffer from hunger and poverty. About 80% of the world’s poorest people live in rural areas. In Africa, before the pandemic, 250 million people were undernourished, or 19% of the population. This prevalence could exceed 25% by 2030. In sub-Saharan Africa, more than 57% of the population cannot afford a nutritious diet.
Our world will not be just or sustainable if this part of humanity that feeds the planet cannot meet its needs and live in dignity. This deep inequity is a source of conflict and migration.
However, this situation is not inevitable. The transformation of African agriculture into a more modern agriculture, associated with local agro-food value chains, sources of income and decent jobs, is possible. Many African governments and international donors are working on it and making progress. But we need to do much more and much faster, especially given the climate emergency which primarily affects the livelihoods of rural populations.
The World Summit on Food Systems organized by the United Nations Secretary General next September is an unprecedented opportunity to review the way the world produces, processes and consumes food. These systems must be sustainable and equitable to be effective.
However, Africa’s population is expected to double by 2030 as its diet continues to diversify. This growth in demand for nutritious and varied food products offers immense opportunities. African agri-food markets are therefore expected to triple to around $ 1 trillion by 2030.
Today, it is a question of investing massively in local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the processing, distribution, marketing of agricultural products and services sector. This agro-food economy is a significant source of jobs, especially for the 12 to 14 million young people who enter the labor market each year in Africa.
It is a question of will and realism. On the one hand, official development assistance for agriculture, which has stagnated for years, must increase. On the other hand, African countries must better finance their agriculture and implement an incentive regulatory framework. Smallholder farmers also need to be able to adapt to climate change and protect themselves against shocks. While their very livelihoods are threatened, they receive only 1.7% of climate finance.
Finally, it is essential to encourage the private sector, vector of innovations, solutions and access to food chains, to invest much more in rural areas, and the financial sector to respond to the strong demand for financing. The borrowing needs of agribusiness SMEs in sub-Saharan Africa already amounted to more than $ 100 billion before the pandemic.
The September summit is an unprecedented opportunity to put rural populations back at the center of issues and solutions for a better world. Let’s be up to the opportunities.
* IFAD is an international financial institution and a specialized body of the United Nations. Its headquarters are in Rome. IFAD invests in rural people by empowering them to reduce poverty, increase food security, improve nutrition and build resilience. Since 1978, it has provided US $ 23.2 billion in low-interest loans and grants, for projects that have benefited 518 million people.