Africa’s food system has experienced rapid transformation in recent years, driven by widespread urbanization and increasing incomes. In addition, initiatives like the African Continental Free Trade Area have resulted in changes to market structure and functioning in an effort to spur regional trade and economic growth. These changes present new income-generating opportunities all along the agrifood value chain, from farmers to processors, traders, distributors, and the food service industry.
However, concentrated efforts need to be made to ensure that smallholder farmers and other marginalized populations are not left out of high-value markets, according to the 2020 Global Food Policy Report, released by IFPRI on April 7.
The report provides specific recommendations for building food systems that are inclusive of several vulnerable populations, including rural households and smallholders, women, and youth.
Throughout most of Africa, poverty and food and nutrition insecurity remain heavily concentrated in rural areas, as does access to services like clean water and electricity. The report calls for increased investments in infrastructure and social safety nets in these areas to help ensure that rural populations are not left behind in the drive for food system transformation. For example, investments in transportation infrastructure, such as roads, can improve rural households’ market access and employment opportunities. Similarly, investments in agricultural R&D and rural capacity building, by both governments and private sector actors, can create an environment in which rural populations are better able to participate in high-value agricultural production or off-farm jobs in the larger agrifood value chain.
In recent years, gender equality has become a prime focus of policymakers in many African countries, thanks in part to the African Union’s designation of 2010-2020 as the African Women’s Decade. Efforts have been made throughout the region to better safeguard women’s political and legal rights, increase women’s representation in decision-making, improve women’ education and employment opportunities, and target policies to support women’s specific needs in order to empower them in the agricultural sector. Despite these efforts, however, significant gender inequalities still exist in the region, and these have multiple negative impacts, including reduced agricultural and agrifood system productivity. To address these remaining gaps, the GFPR recommends including explicit gender equality goals in policies and development programs; such goals can include increasing capacity-building efforts for women and strengthening access to and voices of women’s groups. Women’s access to financial tools and business development support should also be increased in order to help them equitably participate in the region’s modernizing food systems.
Unemployment rates for young people in Africa between the ages of 15 and 24 are more than double the region’s overall unemployment rate. Meanwhile, although the agricultural sector accounts for a large portion of the work force in Africa south of the Sahara, only 2 percent of university students in the region study agriculture, according to the 2020 GFPR. Thus, engaging more youth in the region’s burgeoning agrifood sector will play a critical role in addressing the youth employment gap. In order to involve Africa’s immense youth population in the agricultural sector successfully, education and training systems need to be better funded and strengthened throughout the region. Such efforts should involve multiple stakeholders, including governments, academia and research institutions, development practitioners, and the private sector.
The 2020 GFPR utilizes a wide range of data and indicators, including the Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators (ASTI), the Food Policy Research Capacity Indicators (FPRCI), Agricultural Total Factor Productivity, data from the IMPACT model, and data from the SPEED (Statistics on Public Expenditures for Economic Development) model.