This edition of Africa Insights goes back to basics – food. It quickly becomes apparent, though, that this is a rather complex topic in the context of our continent.
The security of Africa's food supply is under threat from many quarters. Fortunately, our research partners at Stellenbosch University's Centre for Complex Systems in Transition have approached the vast terrain of African food systems in a systematic and digestible way.
They conclude that in the post-COVID-19 era, Africa must play to its strengths, one of the biggest of which is size – small rather than large in the case of the production end of the food value chain. Smallholder and medium-scale farms are already driving agricultural transformation in countries such as Kenya and Rwanda, where ‘scaling out the small scale' can have significant positive impacts on jobs and food availability, as well as the environment.
This is not to say there is no room for the bigger players and the efficiencies and economies of scale they bring. However, the research indicates that investments in economies of scale are better suited to non-production activities such as processing, transportation and marketing.
Truth be told, there is a dire need for investment in these parts of the agricultural value chain, which are bogged down by poor storage systems, inadequate processing tools, lack of infrastructure and weak marketing structures.
Investment in storage, processing and transport would also go a long way towards addressing food safety risks. The increasing accessibility of digital, data-driven tools, including satellite and drone technology, would also be beneficial.
As for policymakers, they need to recognise, first and foremost, the importance of a stable and predictable policy and price environment for food market stability and economic growth.
All in all, this edition of Africa Insights provides food for thought. May it stimulate fruitful discussion.
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