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Africa grapples with surging food import bill

Africa’s food imports triple every decade, the President of Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) has said, calling for firm actions to help the continent become self-reliant in food.

Agnes Kalibata made the disclosure during the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) where she made the case for prioritising moving smallholder farmers from subsistence agriculture to profitable agribusiness.


At the forum, a Deal Room—a matchmaking event seeking to mobilise $5 billion in agribusiness financing, was launched.


Africa remains a net food importer with the food import bill outstripping export revenuers.


The African Development Bank (AfDB) estimated that in 2017, Africa spent $64.5 billion on importing foods, and that the food import bill was projected to increase to over $110 billion by 2025. This, according to the Bank, is unsustainable, irresponsible, and unaffordable.

Africa’s exports of food and agriculture products are somewhere between $35 billion and $40 billion a year, and some $8 billion a year flows through intra-regional trade in these products, according to McKinsey Company – a US-based management consulting firm.

"We cannot develop this continent on the back of seven out of 10 people living as producers of food (farmers) who are facing high poverty,” Kalibata observed.

Specifically, she added, small and medium enterprises needed help in order to make them profitable. “Every 10 years we triple the amount of food we import,”

While the food system is a very important business in the world, it remains a challenging venture for Africa, which boasts of 1.3 billion people.

The best way to tackle the issue, Kalibata said is to create an environment where investors in the sector can thrive.

Diane Karusisi, the Chief Executive of Bank of Kigali, there is still a huge gap between the realised farm yield and the potential yield, making it difficult to efficiently bank millions of smallholders.

“I believe digital [agriculture] is the future especially in an African setup where we are dealing with millions of smallholder African farmers, who all have a phone,” she said.

Elizabeth Nsimadala, President Pan-African Farmers’ Organisation (PAFO), said “the production side of the [food] value chain is longer and riskier, and this risk is not distributed in the rest of the value chain and this is where we need to see a rebalancing of power.”


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