No fewer than seven institutional and academic reports on sustainable global food systems were published in 2019. Never has there been so much attention paid to the role our food systems play in safeguarding the health of people and our planet.
Here is the bad news: all reports share the same conclusion, namely that our current food systems are unsustainable from an environmental perspective, a resources perspective and a nutrition perspective.
After decades of steady decline, the trend in world hunger has reverted. As world leaders gather in Cape Town for the regional Africa meeting of the World Economic Forum, we know that hunger is on the rise in nearly all subregions in Africa. With more than 820 million people in the world still hungry, achieving the Sustainable Development Goal of zero hunger by 2030 is starting to look like a Herculean task.
More than 250 million people are undernourished in Africa, making them vulnerable to disease, deficiencies, and prone to developmental stunting that inhibits their full potential. The long-term economic costs of this are staggering: this must change.
With the effects of climate change expected to further negatively impact global food production in the next decades, it will be vital for everyone to work together. The public sector has to focus on economic and social policies that work for everyone. And the private sector should develop more efficient and regenerative agriculture, while better protecting the soil and biodiversity, and further reducing food loss and waste.
But there is also good news to report: we do know how to reverse the trend of hunger and malnutrition in Africa. Royal DSM, together with our partners in Africa Improved Foods (AIF), has shown that investments in agriculture and local food manufacturing work. AIF is a new multi-sectoral, public-private partnership that is feeding the people of Rwanda and delivering economic growth at the same time.
This is the first big public-private partnership dedicated to addressing hunger and malnutrition. However, AIF is not a charity; it is a for-profit joint-venture with shareholders from the public and private sector. With an investment of $70 million, AIF is now reaching over 2 million children in Rwanda with improved nutrition, thanks to the co-operation of smallholder farmers, governments, donors and private partners.
AIF purchases locally grown staple crops from more than 24,000 smallholder farmers, mostly women, at prices that guarantee a predictable income. The crops are processed at AIF’s factory in Kigali and distributed to the entire country.
An independent study conducted by the University of Chicago estimates that from 2016 to 2031, AIF will generate $756 million for the people of Rwanda. After two years of successful operation, this is the time to replicate this model across the continent.
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It would be a way to make structural food aid obsolete. Locally produced food with the right nutrients for a local population is by any means a better, more sustainable solution for the people of Africa than importing staple foods from the West as is still common practice. According to the OECD, in 2017 official aid to Africa totalled $29 billion.
Investing in local food production with the right nutrients for the local population is the only way to make Africa self-sustainable, allowing everyone to reach their full potential. With the youngest population in the world, it will provide a historic opportunity to reach prosperity for all. Let’s not miss it.