Mr Strive Masiyiwa, he of the Econet fame, was at State House, Nairobi, recently to brief President Uhuru Kenyatta and apparently officially invite him to the African Green Revolution Forum, which will be held in Kenya next month.
Mr Masiyiwa is not a stranger in Kenya. His name first surfaced here when the mobile telephony market cake was still hot and he was seeking a slice of that. Kenya did not work out for Econet, but that did not stop the man from prospering. Starting off in his native Zimbabwe, he has built a telecom empire that straddles the southern African region.
His latest visit to Kenya was in his capacity as the chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, founded a decade ago by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Agra works across sub-Saharan Africa, addressing structural and policy bottlenecks that hinder production and market access for smallholder farmers.
Every year, Agra and its partners host the green revolution forum, bringing together presidents and high-level government officials, opinion leaders, agricultural experts, and allied organisations to discuss how to feed Africa. This year’s forum in Nairobi will be the sixth one after Accra, Arusha, Maputo, Addis Ababa, and Lusaka. For the region’s sake, this conference cannot afford to be just a talk shop. Why?
Parts of the eastern and southern Africa regions are currently being buffeted by a food crisis. With a new sense of urgency, these talks must go beyond statements from the array of speakers scheduled to attend to seek concrete solutions to help address the famine.
Perennial underproduction, lack of financial access, market failure, and barriers to cross-border trade are just some of the causes of the food shortage.
During the 2015 forum in Lusaka, Zambia and its neighbours were in the middle of an unprecedented drought that touched off massive crop failures.
That drought has not relented and millions are facing starvation. Zambia has in recent years tried to rise to the role of regional food basket but ad hoc export bans by the government often force its importing neighbours to look elsewhere, mostly South Africa, for food.
This season, however, is different, with seven of South Africa’s nine provinces declaring food emergency. Zimbabwe, a former regional food basket, is now reeling under the effects of the indigenisation policies of the early 2000s.
Malawi almost came into its own with regard to food security, producing a tradable surplus and was even considered a model on running government input subsidy programmes, which have unfortunately become unsustainable.
The country is now in the throes of hunger, with half of its population needing food aid.
According to the World Food Programme, more than 32 million people across southern Africa need food assistance.
So, as UN agencies and others seek to deal with the emergency, green revolution forum delegates in Nairobi must ponder medium- and long-term solutions to Africa’s perennial food crises.
Granted, not all food supply challenges can be attributed to bad government policies. Indeed, many governments have tried to achieve the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme that came out of the Maputo Declaration of 2003.
We, in Africa, need to admit that climate change is upon us and that we need innovations to address its devastating effects on agricultural production.
Dependence on rain-fed agriculture will not do. There is an urgent need for investment in irrigation systems and conservation agriculture. Zambia, with over 40 per cent of the water resources of southern Africa, has proved that looking up to the sky is not enough.
Addressing access to inputs, improving post-harvest management to reduce food losses, adopting innovative tools to address market risks, breaking barriers to regional trade, and information sharing are required. The message at this year’s forum should be clear — we need food.