Feeding Africa and the World in the 21st Century

food in africa cv 112917 114 copy Panel members at the Global Food Security Symposium, Nov. 29 2017. Casey Valentine

Food security experts identify government support, policy implementation, private sector engagement and investment in smallholder farmers as keys to Africa’s agricultural future.

Food security experts from the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) gathered to discuss transforming food production in Africa at Stanford on Nov. 29. The symposium, hosted by the Center on Food Security and the Environment (FSE) examined the challenges, strategies, and possible solutions for catalyzing and sustaining an inclusive agriculture transformation in Africa. 

Moderator Ertharin Cousin, FSE visiting fellow and previous World Food Programme director with more than 25 years of experience on hunger, food, and resilience strategies, launched the panel by outlining Africa’s plight. “Today some 100 million of the farmers across Sub-Saharan Africa farm less than 2 hectares of land. Some 80 percent of those living in rural areas are poor. More than 30 percent of the rural population is chronically hungry and 35 percent of the under-five-year-olds are stunted. By 2050, the bulk of the world's population growth will take place on the continent. In fact, some project that 1.3 billion will be added to the continent, and Nigeria’s [population] will grow larger than the size of the United States between now and 2050,” Cousin said


While Africa continues to experience the highest occurrence of food insecurity worldwide, the continent also contains over 60 percent of the worlds uncultivated but fertile land. AGRA formed in 2006 to fulfill the vision that Africa can feed itself and the world. Panelists included Agnes Kalibata, AGRA President and former Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources of Rwanda; Kanayo F. Nwanze, AGRA board member and immediate past president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development; Usha Barwale Zehr, AGRA board member and Director and Chief Technology Officer of Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Private Limited; and Rajiv Shah, AGRA board member, Rockefeller Foundation President and former Administer of USAID.

Kanayo F. Nwanze stressed the importance of agricultural transformation for Africa’s future. “No country in the world ever transformed itself without going through an agrarian change. No country. Europe, 17th; Japan, 18th century; 19th century was the US, your country; China, 20th century. Why should they be different from Africa? So, first and foremost, we have to have total agricultural transformation,” Nwanze said.

AGRA president, Agnes Kalibata, also spoke to the need for policy implementation and government support in helping drive change. “AGRA as an institution can only do so much. But these governments have the potential and the capacity to reach every corner of their countries. The problem is they are challenged by capacity to do that, by capacity to design proper programs, and by capacity to implement these programs,” Kalibata said.

Expanding on governments' ability to impact and drive change, Usha Barwale Zehr highlighted Asia’s success, specifically with strategic partnerships. “…we've done a lot of talking about public/private partnership. Not so much on the ground on implementing it in a manner, which happened in Asia, for instance, where there was policy, and, most importantly, government will. The government was willing to do whatever it took to make sure that agriculture was transformed at the end of it,” Zehr said.

Beyond government and policy support the panelists also addressed the need for innovation and access to seed technologies. “Why is it that the African farmer and the Indian farmer should not have access to what the American farmer has access to today and reaps benefit from it? …So it's the hybrids, the varieties, the GM technology. Tomorrow it'll be the gene-edited products. And after that we will talk about the satellite-based imaging data that we will use for developing drought-tolerant crops for that very, very small micro environment that existed in the one district in Nigeria,” Zehr said.

"By 2050, who is going to feed Africa? … It's the youth of today. But they're not going to be using the same technologies that exist today. Just think of what IT can do, aggregation, organization of farmer's groups. So, the elements are there. I see the agriculture of tomorrow meeting the challenge – for Africa meeting that challenge is Africa being at the forefront of feeding the world. Africa has to be able to feed itself first. And we have all the opportunities there,” Nwanze said.

This is the first installment of the Global Food Security Symposium series hosted by Stanford University's Center on Food Security and the Environment and generously supported by Zach Nelson and Elizabeth Horn. FSE is a joint initiative of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.