Food Systems, African Union Regional Processes, and CGIAR Engagement


by Namukolo Covic | December 5, 2020

CGIAR has a strong presence in Africa, contributing important evidence on different aspects of agriculture and throughout the food system, from production to consumption, for nutrition. Looking ahead to the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS-2021) in 2021, while grappling with the disruptive effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, African Union (AU) member states are already indicating heightened interest in taking a food system perspective to agricultural development.

African Union policy instruments address different components of the food system

The African continent is ripe to take this perspective, with continental policy instruments in place, including the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP), Agenda 2063, the Malabo Declarations on (1) ‘Accelerated agricultural growth and transformation for shared prosperity and improved livelihoods’ and (2) ‘Nutrition security through inclusive economic growth and sustainable development,’ and the CAADP Biennial review process. National and AU policy instruments are strongly aligned with the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) agenda, but CAADP goals are even more ambitious on ending hunger and malnutrition on the continent. These AU policy instruments address different aspects of the food system, but a more deliberate food systems approach is needed for implementation, to manage likely tradeoffs.

Achieving a nutrition revolution for Africa: The road to healthier diets and optimal nutrition

In 2016, A4NH co-led the development of the Africa Trends and Outlook Report 2015 (ATOR-2015),  Achieving a nutrition revolution for Africa: The road to healthier diets and optimal nutrition. The ATORs are the AU’s official CAADP progress monitoring reports. The ATOR-2015 described the food security and nutrition challenges Africa faces within the context of existing policy instruments. It recommended taking a deliberate food system approach, making current interest in taking this perspective for Africa and on the global stage very welcome and overdue.

Holistically addressing challenges in the different food system components at the country, sub-regional, and continental level will be important to fostering the desired continental nutrition revolution. The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated actions needed to enhance African food systems’ resilience, as reflected by the AU Agriculture Ministers Declaration on Food Security and Nutrition During the COVID-19 Pandemic. These issues were further discussed in May, 2020, when A4NH and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) were part of and moderated a joint webinar of the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD) and Regional Economic Communities, titled “COVID-19 Response on Nutrition and Food Systems.” CGIAR’s strong presence in different food system domains in several countries is well positioned to make important contributions to AU processes. The important question is, how?

A4NH's multi-pronged engagement with African Union processes

In addition to leading development of the ATOR-2015, A4NH has taken a multi-pronged approach to engaging with AU processes, participating in discussions and dialogues to help identify entry points for engaging both responsively and proactively, including:

  • CAADP Biennial Review process: A4NH and IFPRI are represented on the CAADP Biennial Review Technical Working Group on the ending hunger thematic area, and have contributed to important discussions on indicators and capacity needs for countries, including the critical analysis of the biennial review process to inform subsequent reviews. Biennial reviews were held in 2017 and 2019; another is planned for 2021, though the pandemic has disrupted the process. A4NH contributed to developing the African Food Safety Index (AFSI), included as part of the CAADP Biennial review process. The A4NH Food Safety flagship facilitated capacity strengthening for AU member states, and several countries reported on the index in the 2019 review.
  • Figure 1: Key messages from the One CGIAR presentation at ADFNS 2020

    African Day of Food and Nutrition Security (ADFNS) Commemoration: ADFNS is held annually on October 30, and an A4NH/IFPRI representative serves on the steering committee. In 2018, A4NH’s Food Safety flagship led the development of the commemoration’s background paper on the theme “Sustained food safety action for improved nutrition and health of Africans.” In 2020, A4NH led the preparation of a joint CGIAR presentation on “Leveraging evidence-based innovative interventions to create impact in food and nutrition security,” led by Nutrition International. Titled “A Food System Perspective is Critical to Address Africa’s Food Security and Nutrition Challenges,” it was designed as a “One CGIAR” presentation structured to reflect how different CGIAR entities collectively address different but necessary domains of the food system, providing synergy on improving diet quality. A4NH’s Namukolo Covic moderated the High-Level African Union Commemoration event, which received input from the different thematic areas leading to the African Union Communique targeting AU member states and development partners with recommendations that will contribute to informing the AU’s position on UNFSS-2021. Figure 1 details CGIAR Centers that were involved.

  • African Position on Population, Food Security, Nutrition and Sustainable Development: Following an invited presentation on behalf of the AU Commission's Department of Social Affairs (AUC-DSA) at the 3rd Specialized Technical Committee on Health, Population and Drug Control, A4NH worked with the AUC-DSA to draft a background paper to inform the AU position on “Population, food security, nutrition and sustainable development” for the 53rd UN Commission on Population and Development. The paper is expected to further inform discussions toward a Common African Position.
  • Mainstreaming Biofortification in AU processes: In 2020, A4NH commissioned an evaluation of the mainstreaming of biofortification in AU policies and processes. It determined that A4NH engagement, together with HarvestPlus, the International Potato Center and the CGIAR Research Program on Roots & Tubers, synergistically contributed to the mainstreaming observed over time.
  • Research priorities for food security and nutrition in Africa: A4NH is represented on the African Academy of Sciences Steering Committee to identify research priorities for food security and nutrition, a process led by the African Academy of Sciences and AUDA-NEPAD. A call for applications for seed grants for research addressing the identified priorities followed; AUDA-NEPAD will bring the identified priorities into continental and member country policy discussions to increase government funding to address them.
  • African Nutrition Accountability Score Card: AU policy instruments seek to use agriculture as a key strategy to address food security and nutrition outcomes. A4NH joined the African Leaders for Nutrition working group to develop an African Nutrition Accountability Scorecard, a joint initiative of the African Development Bank and the AU. The initiative is intended to foster accountability for, encourage investment in, and monitor progress of nutrition by African governments and development partners.
  • Food Safety Agency and African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA): The AU is prioritizing food safety to (1) improve food safety systems of AU member states through implementing the AFSI and (2) establishing an African Food Safety Agency to coordinate food safety across the continent. There are plans to broaden the AFSI to include sanitary and phytosanitary aspects. These efforts are expected to promote investment in infrastructure including, food safety laboratories to contribute to needed improvements in food safety standards important for implementing the AfCFTA. A4NH, through the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), has also engaged with the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA). IITA has developed the aflatoxin control biological product Aflasafe®, which several countries have begun to scale up production. CGIAR is an important stakeholder to food safety efforts in Africa, and is actively engaging with the multipronged efforts to contribute evidence to inform relevant policy and program decisions.

Key messages for CGIAR engagement with African Union processes

These examples show the importance of bringing evidence generated by CGIAR to engage in and inform actions and progress on African continental and SDG-relevant processes, an additional way to reach multiple countries with this work. As the AU, its member states, and the global community seek to accelerate progress on SDGs by generating momentum on food system transformation, CGIAR’s research on the continent is more relevant than ever, and this sort of engagement can proactively and responsively facilitate knowledge sharing. A4NH’s presence in relevant dialogues and discussions identifies entry points for engagement – important information for CGIAR to give strategic consideration moving forward.

Namukolo Covic coordinates A4NH country engagement work, and is a Senior Research Coordinator at IFPRI. She is based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.


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