We can take lessons from war in Ukraine concerning Africa’s food need

Author: Raymond Mugisha. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • The continent’s population is shooting up, and the demand for food along with it.

Some of the countries which are reported to face acute food crises due to the war in Ukraine are African. They include Egypt, Sudan, Libya and Somalia. A year ago, it was reported that Africa imported about 54.8 metric tons of wheat. African countries are some of the world’s leading wheat importers in the world.

Media reports indicate that Ukraine and Russia export about a third of the world’s wheat and barley. It is therefore no wonder that the war in Ukraine spells immense distress for Africa, from a food supply perspective.

Overall, the continent is a net food importer. Previous estimates have put the food import need for Africa at $110billion, by 2025, a mere three years from now. The rest of the world is thus strategizing to benefit from utilizing a growing and lucrative food demand on the continent. This is unfortunate for a number of reasons.

It is understandable that some regions of the world must import huge quantities of food, by virtue of limited capabilities to produce their own. This should not apply to Africa. With 60 percent of global arable land, the continent should feed the world. We should not be instead endangered due to food supply failures from the outside world.

While we may lack the capital capabilities to mark quick gains in industrialization and other forms of production, the available land provides the most critical capital requirement for basic food production. Agricultural is thus, arguably, one of the most feasible economic prospects for the continent.

The world’s food supply deficit caused by the Ukraine war should have thus been addressed by Africa. Instead, we are stuck with everybody else, or worse. I do not downplay the need to approach agriculture as an industrialized sector, but we can as well do a lot to maximize basic food production as a starting point.

It will be twenty years next year, since African Heads of State and Government endorsed the Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security in Africa. Among other things, this declaration contained the commitment to the allocation of at least 10 percent of national budgetary resources to agriculture and rural development policy implementation within five years.

By about ten years after the Declaration, African countries were allocating an average of only 6.3 percent of their budgets to agriculture. I am unable to tell whether there are other budgetary allocations that may logically be labeled to be under the Maputo Declaration envelop above, even if they may not be directly indicated as Agriculture, in the different budgets of African countries.

However, we may all agree that nineteen years later, we are as food insecure as we would wish to escape from. This implies we possibly did not implement what we intended out of that Declaration.

Good planning is a necessity for survival of the African state and, more importantly, executing what we plan will ensure that future African generations find a good station on which to stand and face the threats of the future – threats, the likelihood of which we cannot accurately tell, but for which the impact will be critical.

It is highly likely that most of the critical supplies we depend on from the outside world can get cut off by circumstances beyond the suppliers. It is also possible that critical supplies and services can be turned off from reaching the continent as a coercive means by external players who wish to exercise control of and influence over Africa. The war in Ukraine has indicated that there is no limit to which the powerful can go to deploy their power towards their aims and objectives. As such, foreign food supply may be used as a weapon of war against Africa in time come.

Needless to say, no jurisdiction can produce everything its population needs. It is possibly not even strategically beneficial to try. However, for a jurisdiction to fail to produce something as critical as food, when nature and the creator have conspired to endow majority capabilities to the said jurisdiction to afford same, is worrisome.  

This worrisome position is where Africa sits, with respect to food security. Endowed with the capacity to produce more food than her population needs, the continent buckles at the disruption of foreign food producers. And this danger can only get worse unless we get more deliberate about it.

The continent’s population is shooting up, and the demand for food along with it. If we do not upgrade food production on the continent and also enable the intra-Africa trade mechanisms to facilitate cross-border movement of food commodities, we face a problem of huge proportions. Yet this is a problem that Africa is most suited to solve.

Raymond is a Chartered Risk Analyst and risk management consultant