The President of the African Development Bank Group, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, said “Africa must prepare for the inevitability of a global food crisis”. He was speaking on Africa’s priorities, as a guest at the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center on Friday.
Respond to questions from the Chairman of the Council’s Africa Center, Ambassador Rama Yade; Principal Investigator Aubrey Hruby; and the Washington/UN correspondent for Jeune Afrique and The Africa Report, Julian Pecquet, the head of the Bank called for a heightened sense of urgency amid what he described as a unique convergence of global challenges for the ‘Africa.
According to Adesina, the continent’s most vulnerable countries have been hardest hit by conflict, climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic, which have upended economic and development progress in Africa. He said Africa, with the lowest GDP growth rates, had lost up to 30 million jobs due to the pandemic.
Speaking about the impact of the Russian-Ukrainian war, Adesina expressed sympathy for the Ukrainian people, describing their suffering as unimaginable. He said the ramifications of the war have spread far beyond Ukraine to other parts of the world, including Africa. He explained that Russia and Ukraine provide 30% of world wheat exports, the price of which has jumped by almost 50% worldwide, reaching levels identical to those of the 2008 world food crisis. He added that fertilizer prices had tripled and that energy prices had risen, fueling inflation.
Adesina warned that tripling fertilizer costs, rising energy prices and rising food basket costs could worsen in Africa in the coming months. He noted that 90% of Russia’s $4 billion in exports to Africa in 2020 were wheat; and 48% of Ukraine’s nearly $3 billion in exports to the continent were wheat and 31% corn.
Adesina warned that to avert a food crisis, Africa must rapidly increase its food production. “The African Development Bank is already working to mitigate the effects of a food crisis through the African Food Crisis Response and Emergency Facility – a dedicated facility envisaged by the Bank to provide countries Africans the resources to increase local food production and obtain fertilizer.
“My guiding principle,” Adesina said, “is that Africa should not beg. We must solve our own challenges ourselves without depending on others…” to the Bank’s innovative flagship initiative, Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT), a program operating on nine food products in more than 30 African countries.
Adesina said TAAT has helped rapidly boost large-scale food production on the continent, including the production of wheat, rice and other grains: “We put our money where our mouth is. We produce more and more of our own food. Our emergency food production plan for Africa will produce 38 million metric tons of food. TAAT has already delivered heat-tolerant wheat varieties to 1.8 million farmers in seven countries.
According to Adesina, heat-tolerant varieties were now being planted on hundreds of thousands of hectares in Ethiopia and Sudan, with extraordinary results. In Ethiopia, where the government applied the TAAT program to a 200,000 hectare lowland irrigated wheat program, farmers are reporting yields of 4.5 to 5 times per hectare. He said TAAT’s climate-smart seeds are also thriving in Sudan, which recorded its largest ever wheat harvest – 1.1 million tonnes of wheat – in the 2019-20 season.
He added that TAAT came to the rescue during drought in southern Africa in 2018 and 2019, deploying heat-tolerant maize varieties that were grown by 5.2 million households on 841,000 hectares. As a result, he said, farmers survived drought in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia, allowing maize production to increase by 631,000 metric tons to a value of $107 million.
Adesina also spoke of the urgent and timely need for a strong replenishment of the African Development Fund, the Bank Group’s concessional lending arm that supports low-income African countries. He said the Fund had connected 15.5 million people to electricity and supported 74 million people through improved agriculture; it gave 50 million people access to transport; built 8,700 kilometers of roads; and provided 42 million people with improved water and sanitation facilities.
The head of the Bank said there were three lessons for Africa to learn from the challenges facing Africa: first, that the continent could no longer leave the health security of its people to the benevolence of others; second, that it must look at health investments differently and make the development of a health defense system a priority — investing in quality health infrastructure as a must — and third, that savings — -which were already recovering—must create fiscal space to deal with debt challenges.
Asked about the outcome for Africa of the global climate summit, COP26, in Glasgow last November, and the prospects for success of COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in 2022, Adesina expressed optimism . He said it was important for developed countries to keep their promise to provide Africa with the $100 billion a year needed for climate adaptation. Adesina said, “Our challenge is adaptation because we didn’t cause the problem. In Africa, we are adapting to climate change.”
He explained that the African Development Bank, with its partner the Global Center for Adaptation, was mobilizing $25 billion to support climate adaptation in Africa.
The head of the African Development Bank highlighted the importance of the technology sector as an engine of growth in Africa and opportunities for young people on the continent. Adesina described Africa’s youth as one of his greatest assets. He praised the contributions of young entrepreneurs in the fintech, digital, creative arts and entertainment industries. He said the need of young entrepreneurs for innovative finance is why the Bank is exploring with stakeholders the creation of investment banks specializing in youth entrepreneurship to unlock potential and economic growth.