Envisioning the Future of Agriculture at the Africa Food Systems Summit
By Elijah Mwashayenyi, EWS-KT Head of Africa
“This week we do not want to talk about problems; we know what they are. We need to talk about actions. Let us talk about regeneration, recovery, and action.”
– Dr. Agnes Kalibata, AGRA President
A High-Level Summit
The Africa Food Systems Forum Summit, hosted by the government of Tanzania and co-organized by AGRA, was held 5–8 September 2023. With a theme of “Recover, Regenerate, Act: Africa’s Solutions to Food Systems Transformation,” the summit sought to reignite the fire of better agricultural productivity and marketing in Africa, against the backdrop of sluggishness in the farming sector, soaring youth unemployment, and the need for the sector to be more inclusive.
Preceded by side events on 4 September, the summit was a melting pot of all things agricultural, including organizations that make the farming sector on the continent tick. The summit, which had 5,400 delegates from 90 countries, was officially opened by Vice President Philip Mpango of Tanzania. It was also graced by former Tanzanian president Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, nine other current or former heads of state, and 33 ministers.
Side Events and a Friend in Need
Prior to the full summit, side events gave selected stakeholders the opportunity to present on various topics and display their wares in booths. East-West Seed Knowledge Transfer Foundation (EWS-KT) was not able to get a booth. However, our partner World Vegetable Center came to the rescue by offering to display our educational materials in their booth. Side events also offered opportunities for one-on-one meetings with stakeholders.
Presence at the Summit
EWS-KT was represented at the summit by Elijah Mwashayenyi, Head of Africa, and Epaphras Milambwe, Knowledge Transfer Manager for Tanzania. Joining from East-West Seed were East Africa Regional Business Development Head Robert Kimonge, Business Development Manager for Uganda Annet Kiiza, and Business Development Manager for Kenya Dianah Orinda.
Elijah Mwashayenyi (EWS-KT Head of Africa), Epaphras Milambwe (EWS-KT Knowledge Transfer Manager for Tanzania), and Robert Kimonge (East-West Seed East Africa Regional Business Development Head) attending a session.
Epaphras Milambwe (EWS-KT Knowledge Transfer Manager for Tanzania), Dianah Orinda (East-West Seed Business Development Manager for Kenya), and Annet Kiiza (East-West Seed Business Development Manager for Tanzania) take the opportunity to connect.
Having both EWS-KT and East-West Seed at such events is always beneficial, not just for networking but for telling the full story of these organizations as two sides of the same coin.
The Main Act
“We need to go beyond intentions and take practical actions.”
– Elizabeth Nzimadala, President of East Africa Farmers Federation (EAFF)
Topics of focus in presentations, deal room talks, and other discussions included:
- The need to make the food system inclusive, with prioritization of youth and women.
- Equitable policy reforms to ensure that 250 million smallholder farmers in Africa benefit.
- Capacity building of smallholder farmers.
- Access to resources, including finance.
- Technology adoption, including digitalization in order to attract youth.
- Food systems strategies for crisis situations
Summing Up What Is Needed
“Assess progress, otherwise you fly blind.”
– Lawrence Haddad, GAIN Executive Director
The conclusions of the summit were summed up by former Tanzanian president (and agricultural economist) Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete:
- “We cannot transform Africa’s agriculture if the hand hoe remains dominant. . . . [and] we cannot call moving from the hand hoe to using the ox-drawn plow innovation . . . I mean, the ox-drawn plow is thousands of years old.”
- “Our agriculture currently depends on God’s rain and . . . we are getting little rain. We need irrigation.”
- “We are still using traditional seeds. We need quality seeds that give high yield.”
- “We should use fertilizers for higher productivity.”
- “We need a skilled farmer. The skilled farmer is an input we often forget.”
- “Access to finance is critical for the smallholder farmer. If there is no access to finance for the smallholder farmer, there is no transforming Africa’s agriculture.”
President Kikwete’s overview of the need for modern farming equipment and technologies, quality agricultural inputs, skilled and knowledgeable farmers, and accessible farmer financing stood as a call to action for the wide array of stakeholders at the summit.
Bold Steps by Key Stakeholders
“Let us use horticulture to attract youths to farming because it pays quickly.”
– Philip Mpango, Vice President of Tanzania
AGRA recently took a bold step by making calls for proposals for implementation of its 2023–2027 strategy that prioritizes inclusive agriculture, resilience, food security, and nutrition. This is in line with the Tanzanian governments move to create training for 200,000 youth, involving 20,000 youth in internship programs, and mentoring and coaching 15,000 youth-led agribusinesses through incubation programs. The African Development Bank is supportive of this program. It is also investing funds into irrigating 150,000 hectares of rice in 15 countries in West Africa.
These developments resonate well with EWS-KT, as we provide unique agricultural extension services that result in lasting impact in rural communities. In alignment with the Tanzanian government’s new youth initiative, we have been able this year to provide training in vegetable production to a group of youth in the program who are enrolled in an agricultural college in the country’s Morogoro region.
In our work, we have especially prioritized youth and women, making sure that significant numbers are selected to host vegetable-farming demonstration plots and embracing digital extension tools, which are particularly popular with youth. It is clear that youth and women are not only game changers in farming but also critical for the sustainability of the sector.