ReSAKSS Annual Conference / Blog  / 2020 ReSAKSS Conference: learning from past policy mistakes and achievements to transform African agrifood systems

2020 ReSAKSS Conference: learning from past policy mistakes and achievements to transform African agrifood systems

By Tsitsi Makombe

Last in a series of blog posts on the release of the 2020 Annual Trends and Outlook Report (ATOR) during the virtual 2020 ReSAKSS Annual Conference Nov. 3–5. The theme of the 2020 ATOR is “Sustaining Africa’s Agrifood System Transformation: The Role of Public Policies.” Read the other posts hereherehere, and here.

Transforming agrifood systems provides the best opportunity for achieving the Malabo Declaration goals of ending hunger and malnutrition, reducing poverty, and enhancing the resilience of agricultural production systems and livelihoods. This kind of transformation is a complex undertaking in which policy choices play a critical role, as they have to constantly adapt to a changing global landscape, the complexity of local economies, and the challenges and opportunities posed by economic and climate shocks as well health shocks such as COVID-19.

The virtual 2020 Regional Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System (ReSAKSS) Conference Nov. 3-5 gathered about 160 participants to explore the role policies play in sustaining Africa’s agrifood system transformation. Organized by AKADEMIYA2063 in partnership with the African Union Commission (AUC) Department of Rural Economy and Agriculture, the conference marked the launch of the 2020 Annual Trends and Outlook Report (ATOR), with the same theme.

The conference “is taking place at a time when COVID-19 is likely to push millions of Africans into extreme poverty and food insecurity. The pandemic and its negative impacts provide an opportunity for reflection, readjustment, and to reprioritize, refocus, reenergize, and rebuild better and stronger,” said AUC Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture Josefa Sacko, opening the event.

The ATOR focuses on a set of comprehensive and complementary policies necessary to transform African agrifood systems. “This year’s ATOR highlights priorities for investment—on the farm, across value chains, and for consumers—to guide government strategizing, especially at this time of constrained resources due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said IFPRI Senior Research Fellow Danielle Resnick, and report co-editor.

AKADEMIYA2063 Executive Chairperson Ousmane Badiane underscored the important role policies have played in Africa’s growth recovery over the last 20 years, including better-managed exchange rates, lower inflation rates, less market interference, sustainable fiscal deficits, less farmer and private sector biases, and increased public investment. “The recent progress needs to be sustained and broadened if the transformational ambitions of Agenda 2063 are to be realized,” Badiane said. “That, in turn, requires continued improvement of strategies and policies to meet the future needs of rapidly modernizing value chains.”

Ensuring an enabling environment is central for agrifood system transformation in light of a wide range of past and current government biases against African agriculture due to unsupportive fiscal, trade, market, and monetary policies. The 2020 ATOR chapter by Mukasa, Ndung’u, and Shimeles calls for pro-agricultural macroeconomic policies that can catalyze transformation and ensure a competitive agricultural sector. Bouët and Odjo further underscore, in their chapter, the need for macroeconomic policy reform as part of trade policy reforms of streamlining customs procedures, improving transport and communications infrastructure, and increasing adoption of sanitary and phytosanitary standards.

Participants reviewed lessons and necessary actions in transforming Africa’s agrifood systems in two parallel symposiums. The first focused on the 2021 United Nations Food Systems Summit, which presents an “opportunity to change course to achieve the SDGs as well as build back better after the COVID-19 crisis,” summit Chief of Staff Adam Gerstenmier said in his keynote address. He called for greater African leadership in contributing to and shaping the summit.

The second symposium focused on rebuilding Africa’s agrifood systems in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has magnified preexisting challenges to agrifood systems and food security in Africa, said keynote speaker Holger Kray, Practice Manager for Agriculture and Food Security with the World Bank. He stressed the need for comprehensive policy and program responses in emergency and recovery to safeguard incomes and livelihoods—including establishing strategic food reserves, scaling up social protection and nutrition interventions, and establishing early warning systems and food and agricultural market information systems.

In light of COVID-19 impacts, including rising numbers of poor and undernourished people and the slowing growth in government agriculture expenditures, the 2020 ATOR chapter by MakombeTefera, and Ulimwengu, notes the urgent to increase agricultural investments and productivity, while investing in better health and food security outcomes and hastening efforts to formulate evidence-based national agriculture investment plans. Because the ATOR is the official CAADP M&E report, the chapter tracks CAADP indicators and implementation processes.

The 2020 ATOR offers four guiding principles for successfully transforming Africa’s agrifood systems, Resnick said: Learning from past policy mistakes and achievements; adopting a holistic agenda that spans the entire agrifood system and examines the individual subcomponents of agrifood systems; embracing nuance for more effective policy targeting; and building policy systems that are accountable, inclusive, and enable agri-food system transformation.

Lastly, Badiane noted: “While good policies may not be the solution to every problem, bad policies are a problem for everything else. We need to always keep this in mind.” Remembering this is key to learning from past policy mistakes and achievements.

Tsitsi Makombe is Director of External Relations with AKADEMIYA2063.

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