KAMPALA —Agrifood systems transformation is now a major topic on the sustainable development agenda. On 23rd September 2021, the first-ever United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) was held virtually as part of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly.
The Summit was a culmination of an 18-month process in which 148 countries hosted National Food System Dialogues (NFSDs) to voice out the issues affecting and influencing agrifood systems, and the transformational strategies for more inclusive, resilient and sustainable practices to prevent hunger and enhance nutrition while ensuring environmental sustainability.
The Summit voiced catalytic and game-changing propositions for actions to spur national, regional and international partnerships to deliver equitably on all the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through agri-food systems transformation.
The UNFSS featured commitments from more than 85 Heads of State and Governments from around the world.
Uganda was represented at the Summit by a delegation headed by the Minister of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries who made a statement and presented a position paper for the Republic of Uganda.
The country also presented a National Pathway and Commitment to Agrifood Systems Transformation. This was a culmination of a five months-long NFSDs led by the Office of the Prime Minister as a Convener, and the National Planning Authority and the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries as Co-conveners.
The Dialogues were technically supported by the UN agencies: the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), World Food Programme (WFP), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund, (UNICEF), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), under the coordination of the Office of the United Nations Resident Coordinator (UNRC). under the coordination of the Office of the United Nations Resident Coordinator.
One may ponder what agrifood systems entail, what is new and why everyone should care. In 2017, FAO described the term “agrifood system” as the collection of activities, processes and people involved in taking food from agricultural production through to consumption; “from the farm to plate”, and the resultant effects on development.
The concept encompasses interconnected systemic actions right from pre-production (planning), production, processing, marketing, distribution, consumption and disposal of food and related goods, noting that a number of political, demographic, economic and environmental drivers influence the outcomes at each stage.
Following a series of reports highlighting the potential of agrifood systems transformation, including the High Level Panel of Experts report (HLPE) commissioned by the UN Committee of Food Security (CFS), and the 2019 UN Global Sustainable Development Report. They all singled out agrifood systems as a core entity that tremendously influences every aspect of humanity and is central to achieving all the SDGs.
When agrifood systems function well, they have the power to unite families, communities and nations through food security, health and nutrition, socio-economic and environmental sustainability, as well as territorial balance and equity, among others. However, when they fail, the resulting disorder threatens education, health, peace, security and all forms of development.
The current global food outlook is one of demand and supply uncertainties, with fast-expanding food markets and a surge in the food import bills across continents.
The joint UN Agencies report on the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021 indicated that by 2020, up to 3 billion people could not afford healthy diets and world hunger increased under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, driving up the prevalence of undernourishment by 1.5%.
Between 720 and 811 million people were undernourished and faced hunger in 2020, inclusive of an estimated 118 million added from the time of the pandemic. In Africa, estimates indicated that in 2020 up to 281.6 million Africans (21%) were undernourished with Eastern Africa contributing 125.1 million (28.1%).
Furthermore, on the continent more than 70% of the population (1.01 billion) could not afford healthy diets between 2017 and 2019; constituting one-third of the global population that cannot afford healthy diets.
In effect, malnutrition costs economies between 3 and 16% of GDP annually. With stunting on the continent having reduced minimally from 34.5% in 2012 to 30.7% in 2018, the path towards the African Union target of reducing stunting to less than 10% on the continent by 2025 seems complicated.
Uganda is a country at the crossroads with regard to agri-food systems transformation. On one hand, there is a huge potential presented by the agrifood sector with diverse agro-ecology zones rich with indigenous food resources and knowledge, but on the other side, the country has persistent problems of low and under-utilized productivity, misuse of agrochemicals, climate change uncertainties, ferocious disasters, deforestation, natural disasters and shocks (erratic rainfall patterns in some parts of the country, flooding, landslides, desert locusts and Covid-19), persistent pockets of food insecurity especially in North-Eastern parts of the country.
The Uganda National Household Survey (UNHS) of 2019/2020 reported significant progress in reducing the proportion of households in the subsistence economy to 39% in 2019/20, of whom 56% are in subsistence agriculture, a decline from 68% in 2017. Agriculture, forestry and fisheries are the third contributing factor for household income.
However, pockets of food insecurity continue to persist as up to 10 million people could be experiencing some level of food insecurity of whom about 2.6 million (23%) face acute levels with the majority being in rural areas.
The problem is exacerbated by resurgence of crop and livestock pests and diseases, reduced household buffer stocks, rising food prices and poor consumer choices dictated by cost.
To address national development concerns, the 3rd National Development Plan 2020/21-2024/25 positioned the Agro-industrialisation programme as the main thrust for transforming Uganda into a middle-income economy.
The programme aims to increase production, productivity and value addition of agricultural commodities to increase household incomes and export earnings. The focus is on improving production, aggregation, processing and marketing of agricultural products and addressing the value chain challenges.
If well harnessed, this programme could turn around the nascent food industry into a major supply source of value-added healthy food products across the region and the continent.
There is a need for concerted multi-stakeholder support for implementation of the agro-industrialization programme. This requires stronger partnerships to increase access to affordable agro-technologies, increased farmers access to affordable energy to enhance capacity to create micro-small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). Equitable farmers’ access to innovative financing including scaling up agricultural insurance is also paramount.
Addressing the nutritional needs of the population also demands scaling up nutrition-sensitive agriculture interventions and extension services. Lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic have also shown that digitalization and the use of innovations around ICT could improve efficiency in food systems.
At this early stage when the Programme Implementation Action Plan (PIAP) for Agro-Industrialization is just being rolled out, it is timely to align and converge technical and financial support to accelerate the momentum of implementation.
The country also needs to consider real implementation of the Uganda Pathway and Roadmap of Commitment submitted to the UNFSS. These follow-up actions certainly require the development of an Agrifood Systems Transformation Agenda under NDP III and creating a robust agrifood policy, information management and observatory system to enhance implementation, coordination and accountability.
FAO continues to support and partner with the Government of Uganda, Development Partners and Civil Society Organization (CSOs) in a number of areas in the field of agri-food systems transformation.
The Agro-industrialization programme of NDP III is shaping and remodelling programme support towards maximising the potential benefits in terms of socio-economic transformation and sustainable development of the country to achieve the Four Betters emphasized by FAO: Better Production, Better Nutrition, Better Environment and Better Life while leaving no one behind in Uganda.
In the end, the good fruits and success story from Uganda will be a shared achievement for all of us.
Policy and Agrifood System Adviser