Africa must invest more wisely in food production

African countries are falling behind on their pledge to increase investment in agriculture and help feed expanding populations, according to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).

An FAO report, timed to coincide with this month’s UN Food Systems Summit, says increased agricultural investment is crucial to alleviating hunger. In sub-Saharan Africa, more than 250 million people are undernourished and hunger affects one out of five persons – more than twice the global average.

It said that in 2003 the heads of 55 African governments had pledged to commit at least 10% of public expenditure to agriculture. “This has, for the most part, not been met, despite renewed commitments in 2014,” the report said.

It goes into detailed analysis of agricultural spending in 13 countries in east and west Africa, examines the problems – including that up to one fifth of agricultural budgets goes unspent – and offers some solutions.

 “High priority should be given to funding programmes and projects with the highest return on investment in terms of agricultural growth, food security, and poverty reduction. Extensive research has demonstrated that infrastructural investments, R&D and extension services, inspection facilities and strengthened value chains are among the areas of spending with the largest payoffs.”

However, spending on food and agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa had largely focused on providing subsidies for agricultural inputs, such as seeds and fertilisers.

African governments needed to plan public expenditures more thoroughly and make evidence-based decisions on where best to invest their money and in which products, the FAO said.

Image: Massimo Bottura speaks at the Pre-Summit of the UN Food System Summit 2021. © FAO / Giuseppe Carotenuto.