Africa’s climate and hunger crises demand urgent action, not empty words

Angola drought

A field is seen next to houses in a village near Lubango in Angola on February 16, 2020. The Huila province in Angola was recently hit by a drought that dried up most water sources and devastated crops across the southern Africa region, where some 45 million people face hunger.

Photo credit: Osvaldo Silva | AFP

As delegates fly home from two African Summits in the same week, I reflect on what they left behind – false solutions and empty promises.

The Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi and the African Food Systems Summit in Dar-es-Salaam, the week of September 4, took on critically important issues. But they suffered from the same flaws – doubling down on failing policies, excluding farmers and civil society, and endorsing the talking points flown in from rich-country boardrooms.

Time is running out. Each day, rising temperatures, floods, storms, droughts, and land degradation disproportionately affect African small-scale food producers and communities, amplifying their vulnerabilities. The climate emergency and the hunger crisis clearly demand an urgent change of direction.

But where is the vision for change? Climate delegates from the global North continue to brandish carbon credits as their answer. Meanwhile, donors, business leaders and African governments keep pushing yet more agrochemicals and hybrid seeds on African farmers, oblivious to the Green Revolution’s proven harm to food security and the environment.

It doesn’t take an Einstein to realise that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. After witnessing these summits, I wonder if they even want different results. They may be content with policies that guarantee fat corporate profits from price-gouged agrochemical sales and provide get-out-of-jail-free cards for the biggest climate polluters.

Short-term profits, long-term pain.

While the Africa Climate Summit’s call to tax carbon emissions was welcome, bolder action is needed, particularly at the intersection of agriculture and climate change.

Airlines, oil companies and tech giants buy carbon credits to avoid having to reduce their own CO2 emissions. Many of the carbon credit schemes fail to deliver climate benefits or turn into land grabs, creating conflicts and displacing people in the name of conservation.

Large-scale monoculture plantations lead to deforestation and biodiversity loss.

Carbon credit projects are masked as conservation initiatives, leaving the poor landless. So-called ‘climate smart’ projects erode the very soils essential for growing healthy food. Agrochemicals on monocultures of hybrid maize degrade our soils and pollute our rivers.

AGRA, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, has rebranded itself, insisting that the GR in its name no longer stands for ‘Green Revolution.’ So, too, is its annual carnival, the African Green Revolution Forum, now renamed the African Food Systems Summit. What is left of their mandate if the spin doctors have purged their core message?

Meanwhile, people are dying. According to this year’s UN hunger data, the number of hungry people in AGRA’s 13 focus countries has increased by 50 per cent since 2006, not decreased. Yet the Gates Foundation pours another $200 million into AGRA’s new 5-year strategy, despite its failure to meaningfully address the many shortcomings flagged in Gates’ own donor evaluation.

AGRA may be a shell of its former self, but it is still aggressively shaping African government policies. Those policies are at the service of the Green Revolution’s new champion, the African Development Bank. The Bank’s ‘Feed Africa: Food Sovereignty and Resilience’ initiative has signed up 40 African countries to a ten-year agricultural development programme with a claimed $50 billion investment budget.

While I applaud AfDB’s energy in mobilising funding for agriculture, particularly now when African governments are wallowing in debt, it is disappointing to see they are still locked into industrial farming rather than transformative approaches such as agroecology. The 40-country plans, compiled by foreign consultants, reinforce the one-size-fits-all myth that the only way to feed Africa is green revolution/climate-smart agriculture. Look for a massive increase in the use of land, synthetic fertilisers, pesticides, and hybrid and GMO seeds. Expect more monocultures of the starchy staples – rice, wheat, and maize – destroying crop and diet diversity across the continent.

Africa is not a monoculture, and we will not allow agribusiness to turn it into one.

We cannot waste time repeating the mistakes of the past. Africa deserves much better. It’s time to listen to the millions of African food producers feeding their communities through sustainable agroecological approaches, working with nature, nourishing the soil and protecting biodiversity. It’s time to elevate agroecology as the cornerstone for transforming the agri-food system, cultivating resilience, and empowering small-scale farmers, pastoralists, and fishers to confront the challenges posed by climate change.

We are clear in our criticisms and our proposals. In a recent Congo Basin meeting, participants issued the Kinshasa Declaration: Reconciling Food Production with Biodiversity Conservation and Climate Emergency in the Congo Basin. AFSA and its allies denounced the Food Systems Summit for its exclusion of farmers and outlined the kind of policies we have demanded for years. AFSA offered proposals ahead of the Climate Summit.

These are the African voices summit leaders are excluding or ignoring. They offer the African solution the continent urgently needs.

Million Belay (PhD) is the General Coordinator of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa.