By Sharon Atieno

With the number of hungry people in the continent increasing from 214 million to 246 million in a span of five years (2015-2020), there is need for Africa to strengthen its food system.

In a high-level dialogue dubbed, Feeding Africa: leadership to scale up successful innovations, the President, African Development Bank Dr.Akinwumi Adesina observed that the COVID-19 pandemic had worsened food insecurity in the continent. To recover from the pandemic, he said, Africa must now rapidly upscale efforts to boost food production.

He noted that to achieve this, technology is crucial. “Technologies to feed Africa exist. What has been lacking has been a comprehensive approach to take them to scale – with accountability for impacts,” Dr. Adesina said.

“To take technologies off the shelves and get them into the hands of farmers, there is need for a technology development and delivery platform that works at scale.”

He observed that the Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT), a technology and innovation delivery platform by the African Development Bank, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the International Forum for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and several other partners was such a platform.

According to the Bank, the TAAT platform has delivered heat tolerant wheat varieties to 1.8 million farmers in seven countries, increasing wheat production by 1.4 million metric tons, with a value of $291 million.

When drought hit the Southern Africa region in 2018/ 2019, TAAT deployed drought tolerant maize varieties which were cultivated by 5.2 million households on 841,000 ha.

As a result, farmers survived the drought, from Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia, allowing maize production to expand by 631,000 metric tons, with a value of $107 million.

New high yielding rice varieties from TAAT have been cultivated on 1.4 million hectares, impacting 2.2 million households; and boosting rice production by 285,000 metric tons, estimated to be worth $108 million.

“In just two years, TAAT has worked across 28 African countries, on 76 proven agricultural technologies, across 15 crops, and reached 11 million farmers,” Dr. Adesina said.

“Food production has expanded by over 12 million metric tons. And TAAT has saved countries food imports worth $814 million.”

Observing that Africa had technologies and a technology delivery platform, he added that strong political leadership is needed to turn Africa into an agricultural power-house.

Dr. Adesina mentioned that better policy incentives, greater access to financing to support agricultural transformation and developing special agro-industrial processing zones to add value to food produced are crucial.

According to the President of IFAD, Gabriel Houngbo, there is need to galvanize research and development centres, adding that research should be at the centre of any solution and linked to that is innovation and technology.

He noted that there is need for African research and development centres to move from raw research to applied research, from findings to production which will be particularly useful to small scale producers, who are the biggest contributors to the sector.

The virtual event was co-hosted by the African Development Bank and IFAD, in partnership with the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) and the CGIAR system organization.

The African Development Bank will invest $10.4 billion, over the next five years, to boost the development of agricultural value chains and food production in Africa.

The Bank will also invest $1.6 billion, in the next five years, to support 10 strategic crops to drive food security.