Africa’s lost opportunities in Ukraine War

What you need to know:

Unfortunately, millions of Africans experience hunger and all forms of vulnerability while the African Union and African governments look to Europe and other continents for all its problems including feeding Africans

The true depth of Africa’s dependence on Europe for food was not fully understood before the Russia/Ukraine war.

Africa’s wheat dependence on Ukraine is one that is truly laughable for a continent with a vast fertile land that is enormously endowed with the potential to grow all the foods including wheat, in excess, to feed its people.

 Unfortunately, millions of Africans experience hunger and all forms of vulnerability while the African Union and African governments look to Europe and other continents for all its problems including feeding Africans.

Chinua Achebe once wrote that any handshake that goes beyond the elbow turns into something else. In the same breath, the depth of Africa’s learned helplessness is beyond recourse! This joke must end completely and immediately.

 Africa cannot continue to depend on other continents that also depend on it for their survival. This is outrageous!

 The United Nations, for instance, reported that 21 percent of people in Africa suffered from hunger in 2020, which is about 282 million people. In the aftermath of the pandemic, additional 46 million Africans slipped into hunger.  What really is wrong with Africa?

When the chairman of the African Union, Mr Macky Sall, flew to Russia in the midst of the Russian-Ukraine war, his mission was to beg President Vladimir Putin to allow Ukrainian wheat to be shipped to Africa. This is how Africa has lost great opportunities during this war to take its stock, identify prospects to grow wheat/foods and invest in those. 

 African leaders need to get serious and take stock of opportunities especially when world events create crises. Africa lost a great opportunity to advance its traditional medicines during the pandemic. Instead, they sunk deeper in debt to buy drugs and vaccines, demonstrating a total lack of resilience in the face of adversity!

 Wheat, 14 African countries grow wheat in Sub-Saharan Africa. The leading wheat growers are Ethiopia, South Africa, Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. These countries combined produce wheat that meets about 44 percent of Africa’s wheat consumption need at about 25 per potential. With some financial push, education and irrigation, Africa could produce plenty of wheat to export to Ukraine!

 Understandably, wheat is not indigenous to Africa but its uses have become profound in the consumption equation. Africa imports over $12 billion worth of grain annually from different continents. That is enough money to produce nearly twice the metric tonnes of wheat for home and export. Why can’t the African Union and African governments invest in expanding wheat and other foods to be produced on a large scale?

 Many countries have policies on food production and even protect their markets from Africa. Most of these countries invest in mechanised and modern farming practices supported by irrigation schemes. Africa’s major bottleneck to agriculture are known: drought, useless civil wars, genetically modified seeds, and bad politics – corruption and when leaders do not allocate sufficient budget to Agriculture.

 In 2003, AU member states met in Maputo and a follow-up meeting was held in Malabo in 2014, where the leaders pledged to commit at least 10 percent of their annual national budget to food production and agriculture. Nearly all of them have failed to commit, except Uganda which is on track. Ironically, Food and Agriculture are the foundation of all these African countries such that boosting agricultural productivity should be a priority spending area.

 This article is to remind policymakers across Africa of the urgency to commit to investing in food security in Africa. It is a very urgent call to action.

 As a further probe, policymakers should listen to the climate change discursive attentively as we are at a crisis level. The gory scenes of people starving alongside their animals are visible reminders that Africa is not resilient to the onslaught of adverse climate change either.

 A report by Global Centre for Adaptation titled “Agriculture and Food Systems” paints a scarier picture of the impact of climate change on food insecurity in Africa. The report demonstrates that Africa is completely off track in its investment in food and nutrition with the visible impact of climate change already stalling food security. 

 AU member states have to revise the Malabo agreement of 2014 to end hunger in Africa, which is now unlikely to meet its 2025 goals.

 The Russian war on Ukraine in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated that Africa lacks the resilience to exploit emerging opportunities for its independent sustainability.

Morris DC Komakech

Health policy/ health equity scholar

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