Will AfDB’s $1.5bn plan be enough to tackle food crisis?

By Kent Mensah
Posted on Thursday, 26 May 2022 13:16

African Development Bank's President Akinwumi Adesina waves as he arrives for a dinner on the first day of the Paris Peace Forum, at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, 11 November 2021. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

Prices of food, especially wheat and bread as well as key agricultural inputs, such as fertiliser, have been pushed to new heights in Africa due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The situation is getting worse, but the African Development Bank (AfDB) says Africa will not face a food crisis 

The Russia-Ukraine war continues to bite hard affecting global prices for fuel, grains, cooking oils, and fertiliser.

Africa has not been spared as Russia and Ukraine are essential grain exporters to the continent. African countries imported $4bn and $2.9bn worth of agricultural products from Russia and Ukraine respectively in 2020.

As Ghana and Nigeria grapple with the impact of soaring inflation due to price hikes of food, fuel and other commodities, Kenya and Sudan have had their share of anti-government protests over high bread prices. Egypt imports about 50% to 60% of wheat – its main food item – from Russia and Ukraine, but has had to consider options to cut down dependence on the two countries.

Sanctions against Russia have also led to fertiliser shortages in most African countries, including Cameroon and Senegal. Russia is the largest exporter of nitrogen fertiliser and the second-highest exporter of phosphorus and potassium fertiliser globally.

The AfDB solution

On Monday, AfDB said it has approved a $1.5bn facility to help African countries avert a looming food crisis.

Food aid cannot feed Africa. Africa does not need bowls in hand.

The $1.5bn plan will be used to support African countries to produce food, and do so rapidly,” the bank’s group president, Akinwumi Adesina, said at a media briefing in Ghana during the AfDB annual meeting.

Africa faces a shortage of at least 30m metric tonnes of food worth $12bn, especially wheat, maize, and soybeans imported from Russia and Ukraine. The plan aims to reach 20 million farmers with seeds, fertiliser and services that will support post-harvest management. It will also provide financing and credit guarantees for the large-scale supply of fertiliser.

The aim is to produce 38m tonnes of food, comprising 11m tonnes of wheat, 18m tonnes of maize, 6m tonnes of rice and 2.5m tonnes of soya beans to guarantee food sufficiency on the continent.

Adesina is optimistic that Africa will not go down on its knees to beg for food.

“Food aid cannot feed Africa. Africa does not need bowls in hand. Africa needs seeds in the ground, and mechanical harvesters to harvest bountiful food produced locally,” Adesina said.

“Africa will feed itself with pride for there is no dignity in begging for food,” he told journalists. “We were not ready for Covid-19, but for agriculture, for food, we are ready. Africa will not face a food crisis.”

Long-term solutions needed

Ghanaian economist Daniel Amartey of the Policy Initiative for Economic Development (PIED) says the AfDB’s move is laudable, but Africa must start looking for long-term solutions to its food crisis.

We’ve failed to plan for emergencies like this, so we don’t have a solution.

“It’s a good initiative by the African Development Bank. Within the short term it will allow the various economies to resort to other economies quickly where they could make alternative arrangements for the sustainability of food within the continent,” Amartey tells The Africa Report.

“Going into the medium to long-term perspective, I think what ought to be done by the various governments on the continent is to invest hugely into agriculture, not only the production of food but processing and storage of food.

“They should be able to invest in silos to store food during the bumper harvests. That investment is critical to ensure that any external shock that may emerge may not affect food sustainability on the continent. It’s also very important for African governments to look within and use the money in a manner that will ensure we beef up agricultural production, processing of food and storage of food for us to have sufficient food on the continent to address any external shocks that may emerge,” he said.

“We don’t have a solution”

For his part, Joseph Opoku Gakpo, an agriculture policy analyst at the Alliance for Science Ghana, says Africa currently needs urgent food aid and that AfDB’s plan will not solve the problem now, but hopefully, in the long term.

“This investment won’t solve the problem with the rising food crisis. We’re being told that the money would be used to purchase additional inputs like certified seeds and fertilisers. Those inputs must be sought and the planting has to happen so by the time those seeds germinate best-case scenario, the results will be seen in the next year or two,” Gakpo tells The Africa Report.

“We have an emergency situation. What we should rather be doing with that money is getting additional food aid because that is what we need. All over the world what others are doing is […] releasing food that [has] been saved in strategic stocks into the market to stabilise [the] crisis and we don’t have that in Africa.

“We’ve failed to plan for emergencies like this, so we don’t have a solution. We should invest those sums in additional importation of more of such food crops to then flood the market and stabilise the prices. Then we can think of this solution they are suggesting in the medium to long-term,” he says.

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