The future of food

13/04/2016
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“We need to look afresh at agriculture in Africa as a series of systems, and to see it not as a way of life, but a business”, said African Development Bank Acting Vice-President for Operations, Kapil Kapoor, at a World Bank Spring Meetings panel on ‘The Future of Food’ on Wednesday. But the challenges of food and agriculture are global: while 2 billion people in the world are undernourished, 2 billion are obese or overweight. The world wastes one-third of the food it produces.

The paradoxes continue: “How is it,” asked Kapoor, “that the continent with two-thirds of the world’s arable land and plentiful water resources, struggles to feed its own people – to the extent that it imports US $35 billion of food a year – and creates so little agricultural produce?” Speaking on behalf of Bank Group President Akinwumi Adesina, the former Nigerian Minister of Agriculture, he announced the imminent unveiling of a continent-wide strategy to ‘Feed Africa’, which will be shared with African and international audiences alike at the Bank’s Annual Meetings in Lusaka from May 23, 2016. “The strategy is in part the result of new and holistic thinking among our partners in government”, he said. “Last October, in Dakar, the Bank convened a ‘Feed Africa’ conference which brought together Ministers of Agriculture, Finance and Health in an almost unprecedented move to see agriculture across all its component parts, at the nexus of health, economic growth, and a sustainable planet. The goal is nothing if not ambitious: we believe that by 2025 the continent of Africa can be a net exporter, not an importer, of food.”

Kapoor set out a number of the challenges, not least those of the different political economies of different countries in Africa, and of poorer countries which are not ready to debate the diversification of the food supply, until they have the basics of food supply guaranteed. He charted the contrasts of African food poverty and a growing African middle class with aspirations about food, as about other aspects of life. He stressed the role of partnership in transforming African agriculture. “We have found a huge matrix of players in agriculture in Africa, but little coordination. And the role of the private sector is key: every conversation we have with governments is essentially a conversation with and about the role of the private sector. It is the private sector which will bring about change.”

The event was moderated by former White House chef and now NBC TV food analyst chef Sam Kass, who in September 2015 served a meal made from food waste to Heads of Governments meeting at the UN in New York, as they discussed common approaches to the COP21 climate change summit in Paris three months later.  “Food is the ultimate expression of who we are and where we are from”, he said. “We cannot ignore its cultural aspects.”

Other panelists were Juan José Freijo, Consumer Goods Forum and Global Head of Sustainability, Brambles; Bonnie McClafferty, Director, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition; Johan Rockström, Co-Founder, EAT Initiative, and Juergen Voegele, Senior Director, Agriculture Global Practice, World Bank. 

Voegele vocalised many of the challenges of the sector. “The agriculture sector is way behind the curve”, he said, “while for instance the energy sector has invested in research and debate, and found solutions, like renewable energy. Agriculture has simply not had these conversations, and when the leading agriculture research agency CGIAR has a research budget of less than US $1 billion a year, no wonder we are behind. We need an agricultural sector that is productive, resilient, and low-imprint.  Every country needs to think through its own agriculture journey ... but we can collectively help countries align around certain key principles and priorities. ”