International Studies & Programs

"Don’t sleep on the job" – AU Warns Africa

AU Commissioner Josefa Sacko speaks at World Food Prize side event.

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Published: Friday, 16 Oct 2020 Author: WIsdom Nelson Chimgwede

The African Union (AU) Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, Josefa Sacko, has reminded governments and stakeholders not to sleep on the job, warning that the devastation on Africa’s agri-food systems caused by COVID-19, among other factors, could spell doom for the continent amid a rapidly growing population.

She was speaking this week during the Norman Borlaug Dialogue, a World Food Prize 2020 Side Event titled “Toward Sustainable Agricultural Productivity, Soil Health, and Resilience in Africa:  An agenda for research and Commisioner Sacko.jpgaction.”

The side event, one among a series of initiatives ahead of the 2021 Abuja II Fertilizer Summit, was clarion call to African governments to anticipate and respond proactively rather than reactively to changes in African agricultural and food systems.

Said Sacko at the event jointly organized by ReNAPRI, AUC, AfDB, IFDC, and AAP/MSU: “achieving significant and sustainable gains in agricultural productivity will require continued growth in public and private sector commitments to investments and policies that facilitate development of private sector-led fertilizer supply chains, as well as adoption of a more holistic approach to improving crop productivity.”

She was joined on the panel by the 2020 World Food Laureate and soil science Professor Rattan Lal, who reminded the virtual audiences that Africa's food insecurity situation will and can change if countries translate science into action.

Echoing the World Food Laureate, Prof. Tom Jayne of Michigan State University (MSU) said many important actions are needed to raise agricultural productivity, but one of the most important actions is to strengthen African agricultural research and extension systems​.

He emphasized that “agricultural growth is a major driver of economic growth in Africa,” the continent that is expected to see an exponential population boom, against its growingly limited agricultural space.

For Prof. Jayne, both the challenge of achieving gains and the potential implications, are exemplified by the fact that “the majority (70 percent) of agricultural growth in Africa since 2006, has been due to cropland expansion, while less than 15 percent has been due to increased productivity.”

This, perhaps, explains why MSU Professor of Soils and Cropping Ecology Sieglinde Snapp, who works with African universities in Malawi and elsewhere, identified soil diagnosis in the field as “a missing ingredient in the African green revolution until now.”

“At MSU and Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) in Malawi, we are working with extension and over 500 farmers to test out a handheld device” as one of the urgently needed solutions to improving productive land and fertilizer usage.

The Abuja II Fertilizer Summit is billed to be a platform that will help build consensus for a fertilizer and soil health plan of action to enhance sustainable agricultural productivity growth and resilience in Africa.

It follows the “Abuja Declaration on Fertilizer for the African Green Revolution” adopted by the African heads of state and governments at an African Union Special Summit in June 2006.

As the AU, we have high expectations from the Abuja II Summit, said Sacko, emphasizing that by the end of the summit “we will be looking for resolutions and recommendations on how African governments can promote sustainable increases in crop productivity” such as how best governments can make long-term investments in infrastructure and research, among others.

A recording of the WFP side event can be viewed at