What do the outcomes of the United Nations Food Systems Summit mean for African food systems transformation? Recommendations from The Malabo Montpellier Panel post-UNFSS Policy Conversation

Group photo Post-UNFSS conversation

The inaugural United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) took place on September 23 2021, against the backdrop of the UN General Assembly in New York, marking the start of a new era of sustainable food production and consumption. Convened as part of the Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, the UNFSS was preceded by an 18-month preparatory process during which 148 countries hosted a program of national dialogues to develop strategies for more inclusive, resilient and sustainable food systems.

To ascertain inclusivity and sustainability, knowledge-based institutions must be proactive in supporting African governments and institutions in aligning their priorities with critical global and continental agendas. Connecting the Dots: Policy Innovations for Food Systems Transformation in Africa—a recent report by The Malabo Montpellier Panel, jointly facilitated by AKADEMIYA2063, University of Bonn, and Imperial College London, discusses policy innovations that are contributing to agricultural transformation in Africa. Drawing on the experience and visionary leadership of Ghana, Malawi, Morocco, and Rwanda, the report apprehends their policy and institutional innovations, which have moved the needle toward systems-level change and transformation. The focus on policy innovations towards food systems transformation dovetails with the UNFSS agenda, which recognizes that everyone, everywhere, must take action and work together to transform the way the world produces, consumes and thinks about food, as our food systems hold power to realize our shared vision for a better world.  

What do strong food systems mean for Africa?

Within the foregoing context, The Malabo Montpellier Panel hosted, in partnership with the African Union Commission, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the African Development Bank (AfDB), a high-level conversation for policy leaders to reflect on the UN food systems transformation agenda, in line with country-level, regional, and continental priorities.

For Africa, strong food systems would depend on a productive agricultural sector, encompassing the related sectors of production, processing, transportation, and consumption, as underscored by Dr Ousmane Badiane, AKADEMIYA2063 Executive Chairperson and Co-Chair of The Malabo Montpellier Panel: "For Africa, after two solid decades of growth, this is a good time to look back and see what we have achieved and what more can be done. Nourishing all peoples will require a strong and productive agricultural sector that can grow and produce the food supplies to meet food demands for Africa and the globe".

Africa's anticipated population growth over the next few decades is equally a major consideration in driving efforts towards the continent's food systems transformation: "Africa's population is expected to grow to 2.5 Billion by 2050. A large share of this will be young people, energetic, and more educated," said H.E. Hailemariam Dessalegn, former Prime Minister of Ethiopia and Co-Chair of The Malabo Montpellier Forum. "They will all be looking for well paid, meaningful, and decent jobs. Not only will we be eating more, but we will also be eating differently, including more animal products. Our food systems approach has shown us that we should focus on not only agriculture but also nutrition, and support livelihoods, all the while preserving the environment," he said. 

With COP26 upon us, the climate change perspective was not lost on the policy leaders: "Boosting nature-based production solutions brings our attention to a changing climate and the need to sustain soil fertility and healthy ecosystems to maintain growth," said Dr Ousmane Badiane. The cruciality of climate considerations was echoed by H.E. Hailemariam Dessalegn when he averred, "I cannot stress the impact of climate change on our food systems and our economies more strongly. Africa is at the forefront of climate impact, and few sectors are more vulnerable than food and agriculture. We have to act, and act now".

The Africa Common Position

Africa presented a common position to the UNFSS, whose narrative was guided by the current challenges related to feeding the growing population amid the environmental footprint of global agriculture, worsening climate crisis, and deepening inequality amplified by the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. Informed by existing continental and regional policy frameworks and outcomes from the national dialogues on the UNFSS, the Africa common position demonstrates the continent's commitment to contributing to setting the agenda for global food systems transformation.

"The African common position, which is anchored in the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), the framework for agricultural transformation in Africa, underscores the role of food systems transformation in facilitating the achievement of all the 20 goals of Agenda 2063," said H.E. Josefa Sacko, AU Commissioner, Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Blue Economy and Sustainable Development (AUC-DARBE). "The principles developed to guide Member States and other entities towards using their food systems to achieve the SDGs cannot be ignored. The African common position provides an aggregation of views on key issues that will shape Africa's food systems over the next decade, primarily on resilience in the face of growing vulnerability and shocks," she said.

Africa is poised to be part of the solution. According to Dr Agnes Kalibata, the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy to the 2021 Food Systems Summit, and President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) represented by Alison Cairns, Partnerships Lead at UN Food Systems Summit 2021, "there are huge opportunities for Africa to be a solution: the growing, predominantly youthful population, the role of women, and the fact that two-thirds of the world's uncultivated arable land is in Africa".

Partnerships, Funding, and Sustainability

In a panel discussion moderated by Ambassador Ertharin Cousin, CEO and Founder of Food Systems for the Future and Member of AKADEMIYA2063's Board of Trustees, the policy leaders consistently tackled questions pertaining to coalition, finance, and sustainability within the broader context of development and economic prosperity.

"Food remains at the core of development and our ability to achieve the SDGs," said Hon. Lobin C. Lowe, Malawi's Minister of Agriculture. "For Malawi, the summit came at a time when the different sectors are in the process of reevaluating and aligning priorities to Malawi 2063. Through this vision, Malawi aspires to inclusive welfare, wealth creation, and to be a self-reliant nation by 2063, with agriculture and food systems as key priorities," he said.

Livelihoods for actors along the agri-food systems chain is equally a priority: "We must ensure food security and nutrition for all, provide livelihoods to farmers and other actors, ensure a sustainable environment by using natural resources sustainably, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions," said Mr Jean Claude Musabyimana, Permanent Secretary at Rwanda's Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources.

According to Dr Gilbert Houngbo, IFAD President, "Food systems should and can be an engine of economic growth for the continent, given that agriculture contributes 27% of Africa's GDP, excluding South Africa. Yet, productivity lags compared to other parts of the world. There is a huge potential for small farms to meet Africa's food needs while also generating new rural enterprises linked to food processing and distribution". This position was underscored by Dr Beth Dunford, Vice President, Agriculture, Human and Social Development, AfDB: "Africa has huge agricultural potential. The size of Africa's food market could reach a trillion dollars by 2030. What Africa does with its agriculture in the face of climate change will determine the future of food for all of us".

Mobilizing finance is critical to achieving the SDGs and driving sustainable food systems transformation: "We have committed to doubling our spending on international climate finance to GBP 11.6 Billion in the next five years," said Dr Liz Kirk, Senior Adviser, Food Security and Commercial Agriculture, FCDO. "Three billion of that will support outcomes on nature and the environment, including agriculture. These investments will help the most vulnerable people, including farmers, adapt and build resilience to climate change," she said.

Nevertheless, new mechanisms must be designed for sustainable impact: "the commitment made by the United States at the UNFSS is an important step," said Ms. Maura Barry Boyle, Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Resilience and Food Security, USAID. "There is a huge gap here that donors cannot fill alone. We need to look at innovative mechanisms and partnerships, particularly with private sector investors," she said.

Key Recommendations

Prof. Joachim von Braun, Malabo Montpellier Panel Co-Chair from the Center for Development Research, Bonn University in Germany, described the African food systems transformation drive as a "technical agenda", where AKADEMIYA2063 can provide support in data analysis, modeling: "Each African country may consider forming a cluster of all science and innovation organizations in its vicinity, such as academies of sciences, universities, national agricultural research systems, colleges, knowledge carriers and the extension services, to support evidence-based follow-up actions," he said.

The highly engaging conversation culminated in other key recommendations, including:

  • Consolidating the Africa Common Position
  • Partnerships for the Goals
  • Innovative Funding Mechanisms
  • Knowledge development and Capacity-strengthening
  • Best practices and scaling


Inclusivity for Accelerated Growth

H.E. Josefa Sacko remained steadfast in the African Union Commission's commitment to facilitating collaboration: "The African Union Commission will continue to strengthen integrated policymaking, inter-ministerial collaboration, and private sector engagement as a cornerstone for food system transformation," she said.

But no one must be left behind: "Two decades of constant growth has not reached everyone," said Dr Ousmane Badiane. "We must find ways of including those who have been marginalized to make sure everybody can share in that growth. We need safety nets, an understanding of vulnerability, and the tools and mechanisms to ensure that everybody is on board and is sharing in that growth," he said.

 Read the post-event brief

Dr Layih Butake is the Director of Communication and Outreach at AKADEMIYA2063.