AS the world grapples with food shortage and high cost of food, an expert has singled out African smallholder farmer families as those suffering the most from the crisis.
Bram Govaerts, Director-General of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT), a non-profit agriculture research body, told Africa Briefing’s Koku Devitor on the sidelines of the 2023 Dryland Legumes and Cereals Review and Planning Meeting in Accra that huge investments were needed to turn the tide on the crisis.
The Meeting was organised by CIMMYT, International Tropical Agriculture Institute, Alliance of Biodiversity International, and the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, together with the National Agriculture Research Institutes in West, Central, Eastern and Southern Africa.
He pointed out that ‘The world is in the middle of a food crisis, driven by the supply chain disruptions during and post-Covid, Climate Change with increased storms, temperatures, and drought, and the Russia-Ukraine crisis, leading to a shortage of fertilisers for food crop production, which have all led to the high cost of food.’
He described the situation as a perfect multi-storm, coming together to affect the underlying assumptions of the global food system and provoking lower productivity in staples on the African continent.
‘So what we see is that this crisis is disproportionately impacting the vulnerable and the already precautious group of farmer populations because the cost of living is increasing, meaning a bigger part of their budget needs to go into simply feeding every day,’ said Govaerts.
The expert said the situation was worsening the poverty situation in Africa, especially among smallholder farmers.
‘Poverty is increasing because the amount of financial resources needed to get food on the table increases. It is like a game of chairs with 10 people scrambling for nine chairs. In that case, it is the weakest, the slowest, and the one that is already disadvantaged that is going to stay without a chair,’ he added.
But amid the crisis, Govaerts said there was hope for Africa to overcome the challenges if the continent harnessed its great potential for food production and poverty alleviation.
He said, ‘Africa can feed Africa. So we need transformational efforts with all actors, regional banks, investment banks, African Development Bank, regional bodies, and using the research institutes in each country in a coordinated manner to induce higher food production on the continent.’
He observed that the smallholder farmers had already started diversifying their trade by returning to cultivating certain high-yielding and drought-resistant but highly nutritious indigenous crops such as millet, sorghum, guinea corn, groundnut, cowpeas, and chickpeas.
‘We need huge investments that can unlock these future potentials immediately. We must act fast.
‘There is arable land that can be used. There is so much space to increase productivity on the continent. And there is, of course, a lot of brain power on this continent that we need to bring together in a concerted effort to change the narrative,’ Govarts urged.
The meeting which also commemorated the International Year of Millet, sought to establish regional crop improvement networks that aim to develop new crop varieties and technologies.