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Food for thought on the African continent

June has been a landmark month for African food and agriculture, writes Tatjana von Bormann.

June has been a landmark month for African food and agriculture with two major events marking a new awareness of both the challenges and opportunities inherent in food production and consumption on the continent, writes Tatjana von Bormann.

Last week two busloads of visitors descended on a Woolworths store in the suburbs of Pretoria. They entered the store with a fair degree of scepticism that they would see anything that could compare with the sustainability efforts of retailers in their home regions of Germany, Holland, Canada and elsewhere.

After two hours of being shown around, having been introduced to a local farmer and with every question asked and answered,  they filed back on to the bus where it was very clear that they were impressed by what they’d seen. The conversation centred on the unexpected sophistication and commitment they’d seen in the store’s approach to waste management, energy saving and food donations as well as codes of good practice in fruit and vegetable production.

These visitors were participants in one of five food journeys that had given them first-hand experience of food environments in South Africa as part of the 1st Annual Global Food System Conference* in Pretoria.

It was the first of conference of the Sustainable Food Systems (SFS) Programme of the United Nations 10-Year Framework on Sustainable Consumption and Production (10YFP), jointly led by South Africa, Switzerland, WWF and the international organisation Hivos – and the first time a conference of this nature was being held on African soil.

With the challenge of feeding a growing global population and the fact that much of the agricultural expansion will happen in Africa there is a clear role for African governments and businesses, academics, and civil society organisations in defining and implementing a just and secure food future.

The second event which made June a standout month was that African Development Bank president Akinwumi Adesina won the prestigious World Food Prize for his work to boost yields and farm incomes. As the vast majority of the world's 800 million undernourished people live in Africa the value of Dr Adesina role significantly expanding food production in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation; introducing initiatives to exponentially increase the availability of credit for smallholder farmers across the African continent; and galvanizing the political will to transform African agriculture cannot be overstated.

This issue of galvanising political will and providing appropriate food policy environments was the overriding call of the Pretoria Resolution which was drafted at the 1st Global Sustainable Food Systems conference. In addition the resolution recognised that addressing the heavy burden of malnutrition was the priority entry point into shifting the increasingly unsustainable food system.

The people of Africa may be disproportionately burdened by hunger and malnutrition but this continent also holds much of the land and resources that will be key to meeting the dietary needs of nine billion people in 2050. Africa has power in this system. This reality along with the resolution of the conference and Dr Adesina’s award makes it clear that unlike other global negotiations where the agenda is set and African countries are required to either fall in or out, the agenda for sustainable food systems is still to be clearly defined.

There is real opportunity now for concerted efforts on the continent to enhance nutrition, reduce food waste, uplift smallholder farmers and informal markets, and inspire the next generation to take an active and transformation role in confronting the food security challenges of the 21st century.

*The Conference of the 10YFP Sustainable Food Systems Programme was hosted by South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry and drew over 150 participants from 28 countries, spanning governmental representatives, national and regional organisations, private sector, civil society organisations, UN agencies and research institutions. It was made possible with the support of WWF-South Africa, FAO, Hivos, Switzerland, Nestlé, the government of The Netherlands, the City of Tshwane and UN Environment. Tatjana von Bormann works for WWF-SA.

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