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Updated: Oct 22, 2021

On the margins of the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, H.E. Ambassador Josefa Sacko, African Union Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development, Blue Economy and Sustainable Development, took a moment to reflect on the state of Food Systems and climate action in Africa.

23 September 2021

Dear Commissioner, you just arrived in New York to attend the meetings of the General Debate of the 76th Session of the UNGA. Why is it important for the African Union to be represented in this global arena?

I wish to start by quoting Aspiration 7 from the Goals and Priority Areas of Agenda 2063 – “An Africa as A Strong, United, Resilient and Influential Global Player and Partner.” This enshrines resilience and partnership in the agenda and presents a foundation on which the efforts towards socioeconomic transformation can be built for the African continent. Thus, the participation of the African Union (AU) in the General Debate is very important, because this is a platform whereby we can carry all the issues related to Agenda 2063, our Member States, and our regional economic communities (RECs) to the forefront.

One focus of your visit will be the Food Systems Summit. Can you give us an overview of the state of Food Systems in Africa?

We have developed a flagship program in Agenda 2063 under the Malabo Declaration. Its objective is to transform agriculture on the continent to ensure food productivity and reduce hunger and poverty in Africa. Agriculture is not just the backbone of the African economy, it’s more important than that – it’s the oxygen of African economies.

Under the Malabo declaration, heads of states and governments committed themselves on 7 key areas and the final commitment is “mutual accountability”, in this regard, we publish a report every 2 years to track the progress of the flagship program. The latest report presented in 2020 (with 48 countries reporting) indicated that Africa is not on track to meet the 2025 Malabo goals. By 2025 the goal is to end hunger whereas the 2020 report shows us that only 4 countries are on track to reach this goal by 2025.

We are also concerned about the SDG goals of 2030. The 2021 UN Food Systems Summit has helped us focus on what needs to be changed on African food systems. This summit is an opportunity for us to revisit all our tools, policies, and strategies to transform the food systems which has defined by vulnerability to multiple and overlapping shocks including the current COVID-19 pandemic.

In less than 3 years Africa has had multiple shocks – the climatic shocks (climate change, desertification, locusts in East Africa) and COVID-19 which has really drawn back on some of the major steps we’ve taken in the past few decades. Therefore, we must identify African priorities and move towards concrete actions if we hope to address these issues. With specific emphasis placed on malnutrition and hunger in Africa.

The African Union with the support of The African Union Development Agency-NEPAD are working towards the elaboration and implementation of a Common African Position on the Food Systems. What progress have been made thus far?

When the UN Special Envoy for Food Systems Summit approached the Chairperson of the AUC to appeal for an African common position, the Department of Food Systems contacted the agency NEPAD and UNECA to work together on a common position. We had a consensus of the key issues related to the food system, so we came out with a draft of the common position. All of this happened with the engagement of the Specialized Technical Committee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Water and Environment (STC).

Undoubtedly, the AU and NEPAD should be congratulated for their efforts. Indeed, no other region has presented a common position except for Africa. The common position was presented as a draft in July at the pre-summit in Rome by H.E. Paul Kagame in his capacity as the NEPAD coordinator for the Heads of State. H.E. Felix Tshisekedi also presented some highlights from the final version in his capacity as Chairman of the AU, during the High-Level event on Food Systems Summit held on September 23, 2021.

Priority areas identified in the common position include emerging threats to food systems such as climate change, natural hazards, socioeconomic shock such as Covid -19 and lack of technological innovation. Access to energy and water are other priorities, as well as infrastructure deficits, since we have food loss and waste. Unfortunately, 40% of our produce is lost post-harvest; this food is wasted due to lack of infrastructure and storage facilities.

And finally, the issue of finance is crucial. This is a big problem in this sector. On this point, the African Union has the ambition to come out with a financing mechanism to ensure food security in Africa. Those are the key areas that we really need to focus on.

Excellency, one important theme of the General Debate this year is climate. What efforts have been put in place by the African Union to achieve an environmentally sustainable economy?

Can these measures impede the economic transformation of the continent? Especially since agriculture is a primary source of revenue for many AU Member States.

The AU has the Directorate of Sustainable Environment, and we have a lot of initiatives and conventions to protect the planet. Our initiatives will help us to achieve an environmentally sustainable economy. One such initiative is the “Great Green Wall” to address desertification in the Sahel region.

Three climate commissions have been established to address climate issues across the continent.

1) Established the Sahel climate commission to fight against desertification (coordinated by Republic of Niger)

2) Basin of Congo Climate Commission

3) Islands Climate Commission

These commissions will help us deliver on making sure we have a sustainable environmental economy. Going forward we are going to launch a Center of Excellence of Fishery for the Blue Economy to avoid piracy and establish marine security. Centers are planned to be launched in Gabon and Cameroon later this year.

In terms of steps going forward, we have approached our partners – including the U.K. in their capacity as president of COP 2026 taking place in Glasgow October 2021 – to discuss post-COVID-19 recovery. We elaborated on the African recovery action plan, which has already been launched, to emphasize the important of finance, natural-based solutions, and agricultural resilience. Finally, we emphasized green cities, avoiding too much concrete in city-planning design so that more intentional vegetation increases carbon dioxide and reduces heat continent-wide.

What lessons have you learnt at the AU Commission from the COVID-19 pandemic that will help the continent build back better and more sustainably?

The lesson is that we need to work together in coordination and synergy to prevent duplication of action. If Covid-19 showed us anything, it is the importance of nutrition – the pandemic showed us how malnutrition multiplies vulnerabilities. We must prioritize food and nutrition and create strategies for the people of our continent.

We’ve noticed a growing interest of youth in agriculture and new technologies, how can we make sure the youth are a part of a sustainable future for the continent?

We are in a moment of transition and while most of the continent’s farmers are mostly over 60, youth must regenerate and rejuvenate the agricultural sector. This is a policy issue; we need to come up with strategies across member states to address this issue. Rwanda, Kenya, and Uganda are leading on this issue of agri-entrepreneurship. Youth need continued access to land and finance – with an especial emphasis on young women. We must give young women the opportunity to participate in the distribution chain and support their dynamism, especially the use of innovative tools that will further boost their activities, and generate more income.

Interview by Ms. Lorraine Kepeden

Ms. Ilhan Dahir

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