What will it take to develop resilient, sustainable food systems in African countries? This was one of the issues addressed during the 2021 United Nations Food Systems Pre-Summit in late July. The summit, which is the first of its type in the twenty-first century, strives to find bold, innovative activities with demonstrable outcomes. These efforts are required to meet many of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals during the “Decade of Action.”
Before the conference, African agriculture ministers gathered to discuss the continent’s united position. Using agriculture to relieve poverty, particularly for women and youth, was one of the topics they raised. We seek to contribute to the African common position by emphasizing the relevance of technical innovation and the role of agricultural research and development (R&D) in developing the continent’s food systems.
Agriculture’s expansion has a wide range of benefits. Its extensive links with the agrifood system’s off-farm stages and non-farm industries increase employment and livelihoods in the rest of the economy. Since 2000, significant farm production growth in Sub-Saharan Africa has contributed to high overall economic growth and improvements in the wellbeing of the majority of the region’s inhabitants. However, area expansion accounted for around 75% of Africa’s agricultural production growth, while yield improvements accounted for only 25%. This cannot be sustained in the long run: Eight countries account for 90 percent of Africa’s accessible arable land. Many of these nations are in precarious conditions.
Millions of African farmers’ future lives will be dependent on increasing the productivity of current farmland. Technical innovation is critical for increasing yields and productivity. This type of innovation is the result of ongoing investments in agricultural R&D and extension programs. Higher producing seed varieties, mechanisation, enhanced soil management, and conservation measures are some examples. Profitable and efficient fertilizer use is also important.