Smallholder farmers must be put at center of Food Systems Transformation Efforts – Experts

Government leaders, scientists, agri-preneurs, and leaders of development organizations met in a high-level conversation to consolidate their priorities for food system transformation ahead of the UN Food Systems Summit (UN FSS) in New York from September 23 – 24, 2021.

Participants called for a recommitment to strengthening Africa’s food systems with a particular focus on supporting smallholder farmers and women. The UN FSS side event discussed the continent’s strategies for reaching the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the CAADP Malabo Declaration, and Agenda 2067, critical targets to achieve food security and eradicate poverty from the continent.

Leading the conversation was H.E. Hailemariam Dessalegn, former Ethiopia Prime Minister and Board Chair of AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa), who reiterated the urgency for Africa to build resilient food systems with a particular focus on the critical role of smallholder farmers in agri-food value chains.

“[Supporting] Smallholder farmers is not an option for governments leaders, it is a necessity for the transformation of our food systems. And to be very clear, we must re-double our efforts to transform the productivity of our smallholder farmers in an eco-friendly and sustainable manner. There is an urgent need to help smallholder farmers cope with existing challenges and adopt to future climatic conditions,” he said.

Rodger Voorhies, President of the Global Growth and Opportunity Division at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation expressed optimism that the UN FSS will help African smallholder farmers to secure support for climate adaptation objectives.
“Small-scale producers are the foundation of Africa’s food system; so, it makes sense that an inclusive agricultural transformation, led by smallholder should be the central element of the broader food system transformation,” he said.

Evangelista Chekera, the CEO of Passion Poultry, a poultry equipment and manufacturing company in Zimbabwe, represents the growing number of agricultural focused entrepreneurs on the continent. Speaking during the session she appealed for financial and technical support to as a way of quickening the journey to food system transformation.

“We (young agri-preneurs) need more grants for us to do proper research and development in terms of the products and services we are coming up with…there is also a need for governments to create local hubs where young innovators can develop their products and solutions,” she said.

Closing the conversation, Dr. Godfrey Bahiigwa, the African Union Commission’s Director of Agriculture and Rural Development noted that:” The continent desires to meet its futured food needs by doubling production on a sustainable basis, through adopting technologies that lead to high yields for crops and animals and through supporting agricultural research to develop climate-smart technologies while embracing the benefits of biotechnology”.

“Africa also desires to rely less on food importation and produce food on this continent to feed itself while at the same time save resources and create jobs in the continent, but we want to increase food production while protecting the environment for current and future generations,” he said in a speech on behalf of H.E. Josefa Sacko, the Commissioner for Rural Development, Blue Economy and Sustainable Environment at the African Union Commission.

The Africa common position at the UN FSS will be presented by H.E. Félix Tshisekedi, President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Chair of the African Union.

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