A Different Approach to Strengthening African Food Systems

Agriculture

A Different Approach to Strengthening African Food Systems

Paper
Posted on: 24th June 2020
By Multiple Authors
Nana Yaa Abrafi Foh
Policy Analyst
Fanny Mégret
Programme Manager
Jonathan Said
Head of Inclusive Growth and Private-Sector Development Practice, Tony Blair Institute for Global Change

    Food Supply Chains Are Holding Up in Advanced Countries

    Food Supply Chains Are Holding Up in Advanced Countries

    In the aftermath of the financial and debt crises that started in 2007, food prices increased 57 per cent in 2008 and 64 per cent in 2012, leading to a global food emergency in which 75 million more people went to bed hungry1 FAOStat. Trade restrictions caused 45 per cent of the increase in global rice prices and 30 per cent of the increase in global wheat prices.2 World Bank, Export Restrictions and Price Insulation during Commodity Price Booms, 2011 This all led to major protests across the world, including in Mexico, Bangladesh and Burkina Faso. In the Middle East, it helped trigger the Arab Spring of 2012.

    In March 2020, as shelves emptied in supermarkets across many countries, there were concerns that a similar story might unfold. Many countries faced worker shortages. For example Italian farmers, who usually hire 350,000 temporary workers to support planting in the spring, were faced with challenges when lockdown and movement restrictions hit.3 Reuters, Coronavirus lockdown leaves Italian farmers struggling to plant for spring, 12 March 2020 And some countries restricted the export of strategic food commodities, like wheat in Russia and rice in Vietnam.4 IFPRI Food Export restrictions tracker In the United Kingdom, dairy farmers threw away 5 million litres of milk a week as demand from schools and restaurants plunged,5 Financial Times, Dairy farmers seek government help as lockdown forces milk dumping, 8 April 2020 while the EU is expected to lose €400 million worth of potatoes. Some smaller farms might not have the financial capacity to survive. On the demand side, lower incomes due to the economic crisis mean longer queues at food banks, as seen in the United States.

    Despite these warning signs, food supply chains have so far broadly continued delivering food to populations in Europe, North America and most of Asia and South America. Global production is much higher than it was in 2008, with stock of cereals twice as high.6 The Economist, Briefing Food Security, 9 May 2020

    Advanced and emerging economies were also swift to react this time around, with Italy flying in 400,000 migrants, including from North Africa, to support the harvest season.7 ArabNews, Moroccan workers fly in to rescue Italy’s harvest, 24 May 2020 Australia allowed foreign backpackers, stranded due to travel restrictions, to work in the fields. Ocean shipping continued largely undisturbed, despite some heavy port restrictions – including in Argentina, where the major port of Timbues was closed for a week. Long truck queues in Europe in March are now more or less gone as countries have set up expedited controls at borders.8 The Economist, Briefing Food Security, 9 May 2020 China set up “green corridors” to ensure continuing food supply to Wuhan during the lockdown. The automated trade of certain goods, such as grains, has meant logistical disruptions in advanced and emerging economies have been minimised. Singapore, a net food importer, acted quickly to secure supply chains by signing a number of agreements with other countries (including New Zealand). The agreements allowed Singapore to receive food supplies from these other countries while supporting their access to Asian medical supplies.9 Straits Times, Singapore's response to coronavirus: Pulling out all the stops to save lives, and the economy, 3 May 2020 Singapore also ensured that trade of fresh food with Malaysia would continue even during its lockdown, rapidly establishing a special committee between the two countries.10 Food Navigator Asia, Malaysia in lockdown: COVID-19 reignites food supply fears in Singapore despite government reassurance, 18 March 2020 The UAE and Qatar have created their own shipping lines to secure food imports, while Australia, which exports 70 per cent of its food production,11 Australian Government, Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, Analysis of Australian food security and the COVID-19 pandemic, 17 April 2020 extended work visas, secured input supplies and implemented new subsidies to air freight.12 Reuters, Australia to subsidise air freight for agri exports to offset virus freeze, 1 April 2020

    The situation is different in many developing countries, including those in Africa. Food systems and the governance mechanisms that underpin them remain weak, and disruptions in supply chains such as those caused by Covid-19 risk having a much larger negative effect. This is true both for food itself and also for inputs to food production. Many countries also lack the social welfare mechanisms, institutions and strength of the private sector to mitigate the impact. Covid-19 has shone a light on the vulnerabilities in Africa’s food and nutrition systems, and it is essential they are addressed in order to strengthen the resilience of the continent to manage future shocks and limit the need for humanitarian assistance.

    In order to do this, a different approach is needed. This report explores the vulnerabilities and calls on governments and the global community to take a different approach to transform the sector. We first explore how Covid-19 is affecting Africa’s food systems. We then explore seven underlying vulnerabilities and conclude by making a call to action.

    African Food Systems Are Struggling

    African Food Systems Are Struggling

    In contrast to developed and emerging countries, the disruptions to food systems caused by Covid-19 are exposing the vulnerabilities in food systems across many African countries. The continent is facing a looming food crisis, in addition to the health and economic crisis. Prior to Covid-19, Africa was already home to more than 70 per cent of the world’s poorest people, and 55 per cent of the world’s hungry.13 Global Network Against Food Crises, 2020 Global Report on Food Crises And as a result of Covid-19, in West Africa alone, 22 more million people will need food assistance in the coming months14 The Guardian (WFP), West Africa facing food crisis as coronavirus spreads, 15 May 2020 and 6 million more will be classified in food crisis before August.15 The Food Crisis Prevention Network

    Figure 1 – Impact of Covid-19 on agri-food systems

    Four factors are driving a potential food crisis across Africa.

    First, African households affected by Covid-19 containment measures and the global economic downturn have less money to purchase food.

     While supply-side constraints – which we discuss below – will mostly be resolved when global and local containment measures ease, the effects of lost income (particularly by poorer households) are likely to continue into future years. These effects will be magnified if income loss also leads to increased dissaving, the sale of assets and a return of people to a poverty trap and subsistence farming.

    Periods of lockdown have the strongest impact as market and transportation restrictions mean poorer families, especially in urban areas, struggle to buy food and trade to make a living. Analysis by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) shows that during Rwanda’s six-week lockdown between 21 March and 4 May, total GDP declined by 39 per cent, poverty increased by 20 percentage points and agri-food GDP decreased by 16 per cent (see Figure 1).16 IFPRI short term impact studies; TBI calculations The same analysis projects total GDP for 2020 to decrease overall by 16 per cent.

    In addition, jobs and incomes that rely directly and indirectly on exports to countries that have stalled because of Covid-19, such as the horticulture industry in Kenya and the cocoa industry in Ghana, are also severely affected. When incomes are reduced, a large proportion of households tend to cut spending on food and nutrition. A survey in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia, found that 25 per cent of households in Addis Ababa reduced food expenditures in March and April and that 41 per cent ate less than they should because of a lack of resources.17IFPRI Ethiopia, Food and nutrition security in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia during COVID-19 pandemic, May 2020

    Second, disrupted global supply chains reduce Africa’s ability to import food. A significant proportion of food imported into Africa is transported as cargo on passenger planes. The same is true for a lot of African exports, especially fresh produce. When air travel plunged following border restrictions, cargo capacity was greatly reduced; air freight rates shot up 80 per cent between February and April18TAC Index monthly airfreight rates, Air Cargo News. A food importer into Nigeria said in April that its lead time to import processed food from Europe doubled19 Webinar Sahel Capital - COVID-19 : Building a Resilient Supply Chain, 21 April 2020. Challenges also arise from export restrictions of major food exporters to Africa, like Russia (wheat) and Vietnam (rice). Food imported from countries that imposed export restrictions represent 15 per cent of imported calories in Kenya.20IFPRI Food Export Restrictions Tracker

    The consequence of a more critical breakdown in global supply chains could be dire. If the World Food Programme cannot provide food to the 100 million people it feeds daily, 300,000 people could die of hunger every day.21WFP Chief warns of hunger pandemic as COVID-19 spreads, 21 April 2020

    Third, local agricultural production is being disrupted. In Ethiopia, the government has projected that food production in the upcoming season could decrease by 8 per cent as a result of Covid-19.22AGRA, COVID-19 Situation Report, 15 May 2020 A key reason for this is disruption of the agri-input markets. Almost half of food-producing small and medium enterprises (SMEs) surveyed across 17 developing countries by the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) in May had difficulty accessing inputs.23GAIN partners, Impacts of COVID-19 on Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises in the Food System, May 2020 At the same time, some farmers are struggling to export harvested crops or deliver them to local markets, affecting their income and their capacity to plant new seeds.

    Movement restrictions and confusion over rules for “essential workers” have also meant that some farms were not able to recruit the labour needed to plant or harvest. Food processing plants were sometimes major virus hotspots; in Ghana, for instance, one worker in a fish factory contaminated 533 other workers.24Reuters, President says one person infected 533 with coronavirus at Ghana fish factory, 11 May 2020 In East Africa, food production will also be severely affected in 2020 by a locust infestation, threatening pasture and farmland. Imports of pesticides have been delayed by Covid-19 restrictions.25The Washington Post, They’re back: Trillions of locusts descend on East Africa in second wave, 5 May 2020

    Fourth, African logistics and markets are struggling to adapt. Trucking capacity in West Africa declined 30 per cent in April as borders closed and restrictions were imposed on drivers. In Rwanda, Covid-19 cases had been largely controlled until May, when truckers transporting food from Tanzania re-imported the virus. This led to new control measures at the border, including the need for cargo to change trucks and truck drivers.

    As a result, illegal tax collection at border points has increased by 50 per cent, thereby raising transportation prices.26Reuters, West African food trade under strain as COVID-19 shuts borders, 27 May 2020 Long queues of trucks have become common at borders. At the border between Uganda and Kenya, for instance, the queue has stretched up to 50 kilometres at times as drivers wait to be tested for Covid-19. This is also undermining the movement of food and non-food agricultural products for export.

    “Our food systems have been sitting on a knife-edge for decades: children have been one school meal away from hunger; countries – one export ban away from food shortages; farms – one travel ban away from critical labour shortages; and families in the world’s poorest regions have been one missed day-wage away from food insecurity, untenable living costs, and forced migration.”

    —International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems

    Africa’s Food-System Vulnerabilities Span Nine Areas

    Africa’s Food-System Vulnerabilities Span Nine Areas

    Agriculture and food systems provide employment and income for almost half of Africa’s population, and as much as 70 per cent in East Africa, while contributing 23 per cent of Africa’s GDP (excluding North Africa). Most of Africa’s poorest households depend on it. If the continent is to reach its developmental ambitions, resilient food systems need to be put in place. The sector will need to feed an estimated 2 billion people by 205027 NEPAD, Agriculture in Africa: Transformation and Outlook, November 2013, while also contributing to Africa’s industrialisation, which needs to be agri-led (as Ethiopia’s and Morocco’s efforts have been. Yet Africa currently imports a net $50.5 billion worth of food every year.28 WITS Trade data, TBI calculations with 2018 data This is because of various systemic vulnerabilities that exist along its food and agribusiness systems, from inputs to production to markets and consumption.

    In this section we explore these underlying vulnerabilities, which span seven areas.

    Figure 2 – Fertiliser use, 2017

    1. Inputs: African agriculture could greatly benefit from improved seeds, fertiliser, machines and other agri-inputs.

    When India had its green revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, high-yielding seeds and increased use of fertiliser and agrochemicals contributed to a doubling in cereal yields.29 Eliazer Nelson, A.R.L., Ravichandran, K. & Antony, U. The impact of the Green Revolution on indigenous crops of India. J. Ethn. Food 6, 8 (2019) But in most countries in Africa, the use of agri-inputs remains low, with African farmers using on average only 24 kilograms of fertiliser per hectare (Figure 2), compared to 185 kg per hectare in Asia.30 FAOStat, TBI calculations The agriculture sector in Africa (excluding North Africa) is expected to need eight times more fertiliser and six times more seed than it currently uses in order to fulfil its yield and production potential.31McKinsey, Winning in Africa’s agricultural market, February 2019

    Access to agri-inputs in many African countries remains limited and costly, especially for smallholder farmers who can sometimes travel up to 30 kilometres to access agricultural supplies. Fertiliser and tractors are mainly imported, creating vulnerabilities to external shocks and increasing prices. There is evidence that import and distribution mark-ups can raise the retail price of inputs by as much as 45 per cent.32Ibid. Local research and data, while improving, is also relatively lacking in terms of ensuring the right seeds and fertiliser are applied to the right soil.

    In addition, although Africa has large areas of arable land, land tenure remains a major challenge, especially for female smallholder farmers. Machines are seldom used to prepare that land and harvest. Africa has less than two tractors per thousand hectares compared to ten tractors per thousand hectares in South Asia and Latin America.33FAFDL, “Africa’s Smallholder Farmers Need Access to More Than Just Tractors”, 29 November 2017

    2. Production: Local food production is characterised by “low inputs, low outputs”, with smallholder farmers highly vulnerable to shocks.

    Figure 3 – Fertiliser consumption, 2016

    Hover over a country

    Smallholder farmers represent 60 per cent of Africa’s population. They operate on small parcels of land and tend to lack access to finance to increase the quantity and quality of their production. Smallholder farmers tend to use traditional farming techniques that limit the scope to increase yields (see Figure 334 World Bank Open Data, 2016). Organisations of farmers are often relatively poorly managed and lack the necessary support to improve their governance. There is also limited access to services, like public or private extension, mechanisation providers, soil testing providers and crop storage. Finally, access to technology solutions remains relatively limited when compared with the extent of the need, even though solutions such as drones, mobile phone technology for market information and use of data management apps is gradually increasing.

    The lack of investment in African agriculture production leads to crops that are of lesser quality and often less nutritious. Many seed varieties used – which are often also recycled multiple times – are not resilient to climate change, with agriculture still largely rain-fed and the weather becoming harder to predict. These factors make agricultural production risky for rural households.

    3. Processing and post-harvest: Capacity to process both food and cash crops is low, reducing the value that Africa could get from its agriculture.

    Africa still has low levels of agro-processing and because of its reliance on the export of raw commodities, this hasn’t improved much in recent years. Agro-processing gross value added as a share of total GDP in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Rwanda is only between 3 and 4 per cent.35 IFPRI, Impacts of COVID 19 on Production, Poverty & Food Systems, May, June 2020 In 2019 the whole of West Africa had just 57 industrial and semi-industrial facilities to mill rice, a staple food in the region.36 Global Food Security, The state of rice value chain upgrading in West Africa, April 2020 In addition, there are limitations on the optimal use of adapted technologies for different contexts, such as availability of low-cost and low-energy cold storage solutions.

    Where facilities do exist, they are expensive. Rice milling in Nigeria is four times more costly than in India37 McKinsey, Winning in Africa’s agricultural market, February 2019, while cashew processing is 2.6 times more expensive in Côte d’Ivoire than in Vietnam.38 TBI analysis on cashew, 2020 Post-harvest losses and wastage during and after food processing also represent a major loss for African agriculture. It is estimated that 48 million people every year south of the Sahara could be fed on the post-harvest wastages alone.39 Food Safety News, WHO regional director urges supply chain focus to ensure food safety, June 2020 Even if crop yields increased, significant investment needs to be channelled into post-harvest handling, including storage and processing for local food supply to be resilient.

    4. Imports: Africa’s food supplies depend largely on imports from a limited number of source countries.

    Due to high production and processing costs, as well as rising urban incomes and changing consumption patterns, Africa’s food is often not competitive and the continent ends up importing a total of $80 billion of food every year.40 WITS data, 2018 Figure 4 below details the cereals import dependency ratio for selected African countries, while Figure 5 presents the main source countries and commodities for African imported food. Countries like Congo, Gabon, Ghana and Senegal are highly dependent on the import of cereals.

    Figure 4 – Cereal import dependency radio, 2017

    Figure 5 – Top food exporting countries to sub-Saharan Africa and their main export, 2018

    Imports of key staple food like rice or wheat are often sourced from a limited number of countries, as broken down in Figure 5. The import process itself is often inefficient, which affects prices: Africa (excluding North Africa) scores 53 out of 100 on the Ease of Doing Business Trading Across Borders score, compared to 95 in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries and 69 in Latin America.41 World Bank Ease of Doing Business Report, 2020  In particular, uncompetitive food import markets and numerous food import cartels often lead to abnormal profits and excessively high mark-ups. In various countries, food and agri-input importers are often a powerful political lobby in the political economy landscape, which can make it difficult for government to invest in local production in potentially competitive value chains.42 Jonathan Said and Khwima Singini, http://www.effective-states.org/working-paper-40/, 2014

    5. Transport and access to markets: Weak infrastructure and poorly functioning food markets add to the final price for consumers.

    A key challenge for farmers to access markets for their products is often the weak state of roads and infrastructure in the country. This is the case for food SMEs: 55 per cent mentioned in a survey that current infrastructure in their country did not meet their needs.43 WEF, African farmers need investment – but these 6 factors stand in the way, 2016 Even if farms produce enough to process and sell, the cost of transportation to reach worthwhile markets can be too costly and farmers might not choose to invest in the first place. Information asymmetries and traders and transporters who may have excessive bargaining power in certain markets – as may be the case with fish or cash crops like cocoa – as well as police road checks, limited safe storage options and border delays all lead to high transportation costs.

    A low but increasing level of e-commerce and e-markets is trying to solve some of those issues. Government purchasing or government-facilitated market platforms (like commodity exchanges and auction houses) can be an important market, especially for key staple food and cash crops, respectively. However, on the former, government purchasing power is also low: Food reserves in West Africa would need to be tripled for governments to effectively address an emergency situation.44 ONE, COVID-19 How to stop hunger from becoming deadlier than the virus, June 2020

    6. Consumers: Limited, broad-based and inclusive economic growth means slower market growth than may be possible.

    Despite relatively fast economic growth and urbanisation in Africa since the 1990s – 50 per cent of Ghana’s population now lives in cities – rapid population growth combined with limited inclusivity in the economy means that African households still have relatively little purchasing power to buy food, which still represents a large proportion of household spending (see Figure 6). Typically, as households experience an income shock, they reduce their food consumption and buy less nutritious food, impacting hunger and health for many years. Hence the market for food may grow slower than previously expected due to Covid-19. This also manifests itself in terms of an increase in the number of people that will need to rely on food aid. The World Food Programme serves food to more than 45 million people every day on the continent.

    Figure 6 – Proportion of household consumption spent on food and beverages, 2010

    Hover over a country

    On the positive side, as the continent recovers from Covid-19, growth in regionally integrated markets represents an important business opportunity for African farmers as incomes are nonetheless rising. For example it is estimated that Rwanda alone – which is an example of a country with relatively more inclusive economic growth – will need 500,000 metric tonnes of vegetables every year to meet demand by 2025.

    7. Access to finance and policy: Key enablers to support food systems to function effectively continue to be lacking.

    To invest in seeds, mechanisation or fertiliser, farmers need to be supported by a functional financing system for production, processing and trading. Interest rates on agricultural loans in Africa are on average above 20 per cent, among the highest in the world, which is partially related to a lack of bankable collateral.45 McKinsey, Winning in Africa’s agricultural market, February 2019 For 67 per cent of food SMEs, low access to finance is the first issue that is hindering the growth of the sector in Africa.46 WEF, African farmers need investment – but these 6 factors stand in the way, 2016 Access to insurance to reduce risk in the sector is even more scarce.

    The policy environment is often not supportive for farmers or for financial institutions lending to them. Only 30 per cent of African food SMEs felt that their investment in the sector was adequately supported by government policies. Weak planning and coordination hinder government’s capacity to deliver relevant policies that stimulate the growth of the sector. The World Bank assesses countries’ capacity to enable the business of agriculture, and 14 out of the top 20 worst countries in the ranking are in Africa.47 World Bank, Enabling the Business of Agriculture, 2019 Meanwhile only four countries on the continent are on track to implement the Malabo declaration for agricultural transformation.48 African Union, 2019 Africa Agriculture Transformation Scorecard Lack of policy coherence between government ministries and agencies – and also among development partners – leads to under-investment in Africa’s agricultural transformation.49 Africa Agriculture Status Report, AGRA, 2018

    The current state of African agri-food systems is the root of the disruptions to food security during the Covid-19 pandemic, leaving farmers, traders, consumers and their governments highly vulnerable to disruptions. Weak food systems leave millions of Africans hungry, affecting their productive capacity and the continent’s ability to industrialise, which further weakens food systems in a vicious downward spiral.

    A Call to Action for Governments and the Global Community

    A Call to Action for Governments and the Global Community

    Africa’s food and nutrition security vulnerabilities – which have been placed under the spotlight due to Covid-19 – need to be addressed if the continent is going to meet its developmental aspirations and improve livelihoods in a significant way, while ensuring its rapid population growth is a boon and not a welfare burden. While the provision of short-term relief – via food transfers for communities affected by Covid-19 and other factors such as locusts – is important, it is essential to focus efforts on addressing these vulnerabilities in a permanent way.

    The key question is: What can African governments and their development partners in the global community do – and do differently – to address these vulnerabilities and accelerate agriculture transformation given the extensive constraints they face? These span limitations in fiscal space, limitations in the capacity of government, complex political systems, powerful lobby groups with vested interests and the presence of multiple uncoordinated actors.

    The answer lies in using Covid-19 to double down on the success factors that have allowed developing countries to address their vulnerabilities and transform their agriculture. Such countries include Israel in the 1950s, Brazil in the 1970s, China in the 1980s and Ethiopia and Morocco in the 2000s. Many of these cases exhibited the following success factors:

    1. Agriculture transformation as a top priority for the head of state and cabinet. Ben Gurion in Israel, Emilio Medici in Brazil, Deng Xiaoping in China, Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia, Franklin Roosevelt in the United States, Lal Bahadur Shastri in India and King Mohammed VI in Morocco all set the reform of the sector as a top priority, appointed a strong minister of agriculture, and strengthened the coordination of government and partners.
    2. A central, government-led strategy as a core and fundamental part of the country’s development and growth agenda. In each of the above cases, governments held the reins on a strategy that the leadership saw as central to the survival and prosperity of the nation as a whole, for example the Plan Maroc Vert in Morocco and the Agro-Led Industrialisation Plan in Ethiopia. In each case, the strategy was not merely about food security. It was about the industrialisation of the whole economy. Fixing agriculture vulnerabilities was seen as an essential foundation step to transform the country. Agriculture was not just one issue among many others governments had to grapple with.
    3. A holistic yet pragmatic and targeted approach. Such strategies were not just about farming – which has been the mistake of national agriculture investment plans in many African countries. Instead they were about ensuring the whole value chain worked, from inputs to farming to aggregation to processing, and finally, to markets. Hence, they involved the coordination of various parts of government policy spanning numerous ministries and agencies: land, infrastructure, tax, labour, skills, access to finance, logistics, manufacturing, markets, exports, industry, agri-inputs and agri-services. For example, China’s strategy centred around three pragmatic pillars: land, roads and aggregation warehouses. Everything else fed off this.50 https://www.ifpri.org/profile/kevin-chen
    4. A market-led approach focused on a small manageable number of priority and anchor value chains. In each of these cases governments generally avoided the mistake of intervening in a way that did not account for market dynamics. Israel anchored its approach to the export of citrus and other fruits to Europe. Brazil anchored its approach to the export of soya, sugar and other strategic crops to Japan and elsewhere, as well as to domestic supply such that instead of just exporting four crops as it did in 1970, by the 1990s it exported 19. Plan Maroc Vert anchored its approach to the export and domestic supply of wheat, oranges and dates. In each of these cases, prioritisation of value chains and of problems to solve was essential; as certain value chains took hold, others were developed and value addition was prioritised – this was key to prevent reliance on the export of raw commodities.
    5. Government investment in strategic areas. This involved public-sector investment in areas that needed a public solution – such as the setup of the Brazilian Enterprise for Agriculture Research in 1973, the reinforcement of the Israeli Citrus Marketing Board in the 1950s, the building of Israel’s National Water Carrier (a water pipe stretching more than 200 kilometres to transform part of the desert in southern Israel into farm land), and the establishment of the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency in 2010 to coordinate the development of various value chains.
    6. A focus on the facilitation of private investment that empowered farmers, particularly smallholder farmers. Dialogue and collaboration mechanisms between the government, larger private actors and smallholder farmers – the latter typically represented through well-organised farmer groups – were essential to help direct public investment, research and innovation to solving the most pressing problems faced by the sector. In doing so, these steps facilitated those seeking to invest in adding value to the sector. Israel’s system of collaboration between agricultural research stations, public extension services and farmers is a particularly powerful example. Solving problems in this way became the basis of Israeli innovation in agriculture and water management.
    7. Learning from mistakes. Crucially, the above governments made mistakes and had the policy space to make mistakes and learn from them. For example, Israel prioritised cotton and other crops for biofuel – only to learn after years of investment that it lacked competitive advantage. However, it was important for Israeli policymakers and the private sector to learn this lesson – at the institutional level rather than merely the individual level – in order to refine its approach going forward.

    How can these lessons be transcribed in a Covid-19 recovery context?

    While the success factors outlined above are long-term in nature, they often emerged from periods of crisis and political change. Israel’s approach emerged off the back of huge food insecurity as a result of independence in the late 1940s. Likewise, Ethiopia’s approach – the foundations of which were laid in the late 1990s – followed the famines of the 1980s and political reform of the 1990s. More recently, we at the Tony Blair Institute experienced – and supported – important reform in the agriculture sectors in Sierra Leone and Liberia between 2015 and 2017, off the back of the momentum of a double shock those countries faced: a commodity price collapse followed by a large Ebola outbreak that killed 10,000 people in just three countries. In both cases, the Ebola recovery plans included the establishment of a dedicated delivery and coordination mechanism that focused on pushing through key reforms.

    Crises create windows of opportunity to drive structural change, but for such windows to be positively exploited, the political momentum needs to be harnessed constructively. In Sierra Leone this was called the Presidential Delivery Team; in Liberia, it was the Presidential Task Force for Agriculture. The Liberian task force focused on approximately 20 specific and timebound reforms spanning eight ministries and agencies, while ensuring consistency of communication to the domestic and foreign private sector on the intent of government to engage in dialogue, listen and facilitate investors. It also ensured the complementary coordination of development partners around a more manageable number of priority value chains and the key bottlenecks within them.

    How can governments and the international community harness positive political momentum to address Africa’s food and nutrition security vulnerabilities?

    Our six recommendations to Africa’s governments are:

    1. Under the authority of the president, anchored in the presidency and chaired by a senior government official, establish an intra-ministerial agri-food systems task force, or committee that sets out a focused agenda to address the major challenges raised by the Covid-19 crisis and the wider economic fallout, to then be in a position to deliberately exploit the political momentum created by the crisis to drive a longer-term transformational agenda.
    2. Leverage immediate efforts by the task force or committee to ensure access to food during Covid-19 in order to outline a focused and prioritised agenda to drive longer-term systemic reforms.
    3. Identify drivers of change during the crisis period, including those coming from agtech, SMEs, innovation hub and incubators; home-grown investors and value-chain actors; and large strategic and international development and impact investors that can serve as building blocks for an agenda to address the country’s food system vulnerabilities.
    4. Establish dialogue mechanisms with such actors of change, as well as with strategic non-governmental organisations and development partners.
    5. Establish a delivery mechanism to underpin the task force or committee, thereby serving as secretariat to it. The role of the delivery mechanism is to track progress and provide timely data and information on implementation challenges and potential solutions, while ensuring the task force or committee agenda is focused on the most pressing issues.
    6. Use investment facilitation as a policy anchor for this agenda. Investment facilitation has multiple benefits, including allowing for:
      1. embedding a market-based approach in the government’s own approach, while also embedding economic sustainability.
      2. focused dialogue and a feedback mechanism with investors that can build resilience of the agriculture sector.
      3. clarity on which value chains governments should prioritise and what the development benefits that can be targeted are.
      4. clarity on which problems and bottlenecks should be prioritised, particularly those that require government or development partner intervention.
      5. a coordination mechanism for tasking and planning solutions to the government’s various ministries and agencies as well as for donors.
      6. a benchmark for managing performance and assessing progress.

    Our ten recommendations to the international community centre around the need to back the African governments’ own agenda and vision for how to transform their country’s agriculture sector. It is less about how much support is provided in monetary terms, but what type of support is provided and how it improves the ecosystem of support to local progressives and visionaries, be they in government, the private sector or farming communities. The best approaches are those that develop a long-term development partnership that allows the international community to listen to the vision, agenda and priorities of the government and be responsive to its needs. Japan’s partnership with Brazil in the 1970s, the United States’ partnership with Israel in the 1950s, and the Gates Foundation’s partnership with Ethiopia in the 2010s are good examples of this.

    As part of a genuine development partnership, we encourage the international community to:

    1. Review country support plans to be much more closely aligned to the priorities and plans for local leadership. Limit resistance in areas of disagreement, take a longer-term perspective (not merely a five-year project or country strategy horizon; a 20-year horizon or longer is needed) and be more responsive to the most pressing needs and agenda of government.
    2. Establish facilities that can provide flexible, adaptive management support to visionary, reforming presidents, ministers and senior government officials, ideally in a drawdown form. Such support cannot work to a log frame. It needs to be long term and be able to think and work politically.
    3. Establish or scale up long-term mentoring (and joint working) programmes for government officials, not only in ministries of agriculture but across the range of ministries and agencies that are key to setting a suitable enabling environment for agriculture transformation.
    4. Scale up support for government flagship priority projects and growth corridors, through both technical assistance and higher-risk financing. These can include agri-poles, special purpose vehicles and other key strategic projects.
    5. Establish clearing houses to provide a range of support to local businesses – particularly incubators and business development services for SMEs and farmer organisations – spanning agronomy, legal services, accounting services, business development services, agriculture analysis and policymaking, monitoring and evaluation, market analysis and linkages and so on.
    6. Support African countries with their investment promotion programmes for agribusiness – including by conducting outreach to home investors who may be considering investing in value-adding economic activity on the continent.
    7. Scale development financing and business development solutions for agri businesses that are adding value in-country or enabling value chains and market systems, in particular SMEs and agtech. Long-term business mentoring of local SMEs and farmer organisations is particularly encouraged.
    8. Actively invest in agri-food research, development and innovation. Partner with global agriculture and food innovation sources, innovation hubs, incubators and accelerators, academics and the Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centres (CGIAR) to connect global innovation with local entrepreneurs that support the agri-food sector.
    9. Develop government-to-government learning and sharing partnerships, centring these around the host government’s agriculture vision and agenda.
    10. Scale budget support that can be used for investment in the government’s agriculture agenda, for example revamping agriculture research and extension services.

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