Director-General  QU Dongyu

Urgent collaboration is needed to transform food systems and prevent COVID-19 from becoming a food crisis in Africa, says FAO Director-General


9 September 2020, Kigali/Rome – Urgent collaboration is needed to transform food systems, to provide people with nutritious food and to prevent the COVID-19 crisis from becoming a food crisis in Africa, the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization, QU Dongyu, told a forum of leaders and international institutions today.

The Director-General delivered a keynote address to a policy symposium on the second day of this year’s virtual African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) co-hosted by Rwanda. The theme of AGRF 2020, which runs from September 8-11, is “Feed the Cities, Grow the Continent: Leveraging Urban Food Markets to Achieve Sustainable Food Systems in Africa”.

The focus of Wednesday’s policy symposium was on nutrition and health and participants referred to the findings of the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020 (SOFI 2020) as the ongoing pandemic makes it even more difficult to feed the continent.

Qu alluded to the enormous challenges for ensuring food security in the region and called for urgent co-operation to transform agri-food systems so people can access safe and nutritious food.

In his address, Qu noted that Africa had the highest prevalence of undernourishment - more than twice the global average - and the fastest growth in the number of hungry people compared to other regions.

COVID-19 and other pressures on food supply chains, such as Fall Armyworm and Desert Locust, are threatening food security, nutrition, and economic prospects in Africa in unprecedented ways,” Qu said.

The Director-General emphasized the need to create jobs, improve income opportunities and social protection, while calling for greater innovation and use of technologies and digitalization of agriculture.

He stressed the importance of “building back better” through transformed food systems that focus on better production and better nutrition, while driving more research and development into fruits and vegetables, highlighting the potential of traditional African leafy green vegetables and indigenous foods.

FAO has established a COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme  to support countries and help to prevent a food emergency arising from the pandemic.  Qu also referred to the Hand-in-Hand Initiative , FAO’s innovative flagship approach that is aimed at helping the world’s most vulnerable, by connecting Members with donor partners to accelerate agricultural transformation and sustainable rural development.

“To overcome these enormous challenges, we must work together in new ways,” Qu said.

FAO is a partner in AGRF 2020, along with 22 other organizations including the African Development Bank, the African Union, Bayer, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, CGIAR, the Ikea Foundation, the Tony Blair Institute, UK Aid and US Aid.  

Gerardine Mukeshimana, Rwanda’s Minister for Agriculture and Animal Resources told the symposium that Africa was “lagging behind” as other continents had managed to use science and technology to produce enough food and to produce it cheaply.  

Rodger Voorhies, the President of Bill & Melinda GatesFoundation’s Global Growth and Opportunity Division, underscored the importance of resilience building and stressed the critical role that small holder farmers play in creating change. Too often, he said, they were the hardest hit by drought, floods, and pests such as Desert Locusts and Fall Army Worm. 

Focusing on the cost of production and consumption, Simeon Ehui, the Regional Director for Sustainable Development for Africa at the World Bank, said there were economic benefits in investing in nutrition but for many Africans nutritious food is currently unaffordable.

Martin Fregene, the Director for Agriculture and Agro Industry at the African Development Bank, added that the cost of food needed to come down and there was a need for greater efficiency in moving food from producers to consumers.  He called on governments to “be front and centre” and to work with investors in changing the system and building resilience.