Categories: Articles, Crop productionPublished On: 23rd April 2024

UNECA: Agricultural innovation needed to aid food production in Africa

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Agriculture innovation and science in Africa are seen as the final frontiers if the continent is to be able to feed itself at a time of the worsening impact of climate change. This emerged from a recent meeting of African finance ministers held in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) which noted that the continent needs to upscale its green financing mechanisms.

African countries have struggled to attract green financing amid slow inflows of climate finance promised by richer countries. Experts say this, in turn, has exposed poor African countries to a cycle of missed food production targets, with analysts noting that governments must look for innovative ways to attract investment into sectors such as smart agriculture and drought resilient crop varieties.

This is despite years of numerous conferences to address these challenges, with Veronica Jakarasi, the Chief Director in Zimbabwe’s Climate and Meteorological Services, noting that: “To attract green financing, Africa needs to have policy and regulatory frameworks with set targets in line with ambitious development.”

This highlighted the continent’s ongoing difficulty to address what has become one of the most pressing issues of the global food production ecosystem with African countries routinely being fed by richer countries, the major drivers of climate change. Countries such as Zimbabwe have continued to import food despite years of evidence that the country needs to upscale its agricultural science and research to address what has become cyclical food deficits. According to AGRA, African countries import food commodities such as maize, rice, soya beans and wheat valued at USD4 billion annually.

Experts say this is unacceptable when the continent has the potential to feed itself, if only governments could escalate science and innovation in addressing the effects of climate change on food production. Over the years, countries such as Zimbabwe have continued to lag in both accounts-science and innovation-because of what critics say are policy inconsistencies. For years government has failed to adequately fund the agriculture ministry, with national budget allocation favouring the security sector.

The Ministry of Agriculture announced in March this year that government had given a green light on the importation of genetically modified maize.

However, while advocates have noted that GMO research could help address some of these challenges, Zimbabwe has been inconsistent in the growing and importation of genetically modified maize, the country’s staple food. Faced with a debilitating drought, the Ministry of Agriculture announced in March this year that government had given a green light on the importation of genetically modified maize. Local commercial farmers are on record appealing to government to allow them to grow drought-resilient genetically modified maize, but authorities have remained steadfast in refusing to grant that request.

“In the Food Security Outlook April 2024 to March 2025 this is what we deliberated on, and we said that (the) private sector must continue to import and they will continue to import maize for human consumption … and we also said that if they wished to import genetically modified maize, they can do so,” Agriculture Minister Anxious Masuka told state media. The government has previously made the same policy changes after being faced with drought, importing yellow maize from Kenya.

Despite such challenges, there remains no firm policy on where the government stands regarding the science of GMOs. While GMOs remain contested in some African countries, African finance ministers agree that green climate financing will help explore ways to address the continent’s food resilience conundrum.

African countries import food commodities such as wheat, maize, rice, and soya beans valued at USD4 billion annually.

“Green climate finance is key for sustainable development by continental and regional organisations in their quest to capacitate and facilitate low-carbon and climate-resilient development in Africa,” said Linus Mofor, Senior Environmental Expert from the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), in a UNECA media brief.

“Green transition requires financing for sustainable investment and access to real- time climate-related data. We need to have national and regional programmes aimed at galvanising green finance for enhanced economic development and regional collaboration,” Linus said. UNECA estimates that African countries require USD3 trillion towards the implementation of its climate financing obligation which is expected to anchor the continent’s food production drive.

The agency says: “The public international financial flows are nowhere near sufficient to address adaptation, loss and damage, or to support the low-carbon development needs of developing countries.” With some countries lagging in innovation to attract climate finance, research into food resilience has also suffered. The failure to invest in science research, as well as policy inconsistencies, have left millions hungry.

“(African) countries should now focus on addressing issues of sustainability and finance to move forward and mitigate climate change effects,” Linus added.

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