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Technological innovation makes agriculture more attractive for Africa’s women and youth, and secures a sustainable future for them

Almost 20 percent of Africa’s population is undernourished, 50 million more than at the start of the decade

©FAORNE/ Hamada Soliman – Abdessalam Ould Ahmed speaking at the 10th Africa Day For Food and Nutrition Security

Cairo, 30 October 2019 - Technologies can help make agriculture more attractive, exciting, a field of opportunity for Africa’s women and rural youth, giving them an economically viable and environmentally sustainable future that will help eradicate hunger across the region, build healthy food systems and drive the 2030 Agenda’s success across the region.

This was the key message that Abdessalam Ould Ahmed, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for the Near East and North Africa, conveyed to the participants at the 10th Africa Day For Food and Nutrition Security, held in Cairo under the theme “Fostering New Agricultural Technologies for Improved African Diets”. The event was attended by His Excellency Mostafa Madbouli, Prime Minister of the Arab Republic of Egypt; His Excellency, Ezz ElDin Omar Abou Steit, Minister of Agriculture and Land Reclamation of Egypt; a number of ministers, ambassadors, and senior officials; and representatives of the African Union (AU) and African countries.

Ould Ahmed said in his speech that almost 20 percent of Africa’s population is undernourished, more than a quarter of a billion women, men and children, 50 million more than at the start of the decade.

Noting that Africa is the only region in the world where this happened, he explained that nearly half of the increase in hunger in the region is linked to rising undernourishment in West Africa and a third from East Africa, with 20 million people continuing to face chronic hunger in North Africa too.

The FAO official said the region’s people are affected by multiple burdens of malnutrition, including stunting, underweight and micronutrient deficiencies, with levels of overweight and obesity growing at alarming levels.  He noted that more than 120 million children between 5 and 19 years old in the region are now overweight, 13 percent of all children, almost double the rate at the start of the century.  This, he said, may affect current and future quality of life, lead to rising levels of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, reduce productivity and increase the burden on government and private health expenditures. 

“As the gap between urban and rural areas continues to increase in many places, people, particularly the young, find few incentives to stay in rural areas, producing the food we will need and conserving and protecting our fragile natural resources in the future,” he said.

He noted, however, that the AU and the governments in the region are at the forefront in the fight against hunger, citing the comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program and the 2014 MalaboDeclaration as testimonials of this ambition. He said FAO is proud of its partnership with the African Union Commission (AUC) towards this endeavor.

Ould Ahmed said that ending hunger by 2025 is one of FAO’s programme priorities in Africa.  “This work is undertaken in close collaboration with the African Union Commission and is shaped by the approaches and commitments outlined in the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development and builds on the ambitions of the 2014 Malabo Declaration,” he said.

FAO works with governments and the AUC to support evidence-based policy-making, planning and implementation and to track progress on food security and nutrition.  In 2018, and as part of its Ending Hunger Regional Initiative, FAO worked with the AUC to promote sustainable school nutrition programmes for children in Eastern Africa. It also worked to finalize the Commission’s three-year medium-term implementation plan for the Africa Regional Nutrition Strategy, supported the development of integrated food and nutrition security policies in Central African Republic, Congo and Gabon and contributed to 13 Malabo-compliant investment plans, three of which have now been finalized. FAO also worked with the AUC to facilitate the sharing of experience and knowledge across Africa and with other regions.

In this regard, Ould Ahmed referred to the Hand-in-Hand initiative that the FAO Director-General recently launched, saying the initiative focuses on  priority countries, including 28 in Africa, and at the sub-national level in others, to accelerate the transformative drivers that will ensure that no woman, man or child is left behind. He said the initiative is based on the principles of effective targeting, using matchmaking to bring countries and partners together around shared goals and targets, increasing coordination, enhancing and integrating geo-referenced information and forging stronger partnerships.

Stressing the importance of technology, the FAO Assistant Director-General said: “The adoption of new and innovative technologies, at scale, across the region will be key.  Technologies must be available and they must be accessible to every woman and man that needs them, whether they are smallholder farmers – the backbone of African agriculture – or the pioneers of advanced capital intensive vertical farming systems.”

He said precision agriculture, more efficient water technologies, E-commerce, digital extension platforms, aggregator apps bringing farmers together and enabling them to access markets at scale without intermediaries, drones relaying information on crop growth and pest outbreaks and advanced genome research are already making enormous differences, often at limited cost. This must continue and expand.

While technology is a transformer and a disrupter, he said, it cannot deliver solutions alone. “Technology requires enabling environments, supportive institutions, enormous public and private investments, training and productive infrastructure,” he said.  “For this reason, FAO is increasing its policy and investment capacity at the regional level, enabling it to support the development of smart, integrated, coherent and convergent policies at country, subregional and regional levels.”


30/10/2019

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