Whichever direction the Russia-Ukraine war may take over the next few weeks and months, the conflict has already impacted the next harvesting season. This will have a ripple effect on global food security, possibly for several years. African food-insecure nations should thus brace themselves for a challenging future.

While it is important for African countries to develop strategies to address the agricultural downturn in response to the Ukraine war, it is also important that the countries remember their commitments to existing obligations, such as the 2003 Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security of the African Union. The declaration contains several important decisions regarding agriculture and prominent among them is the “commitment to the allocation of at least 10% of national budgetary resources to agriculture and rural development policy implementation within five years”. Inclusive of the 10% allocation, countries are also expected to raise agricultural productivity by at least 6%.

A Zimbabwean woman puts maize into a bag in Domboshawa, Zimbabwe. Photo: ALEXANDER JOE/AFP

African governments should prioritise formulating actionable solutions and interventions to mitigate against the repercussions of the conflict in Ukraine. The following are potential policy recommendations for policy analysts and their international partners to consider when formulating response measures.

In the short term:

  • Countries should strengthen initiatives that provide food to vulnerable populations through access to strategic reserves. This approach should be multi-stakeholder-led and not only include governments.
  • Major grain producers should be encouraged to increase their production and distribution.
  • To address immediate food shortages, restrictions impeding access to markets should be removed, including border restrictions on the movement of food.
  • Governments should provide the necessary essential planting kits (e.g. seeds, fertiliser, equipment and limited fuel) to ensure that farmers do not miss the next planting season.
  • Providing relevant data — specific to the farmers’ needs — to continue their operations with as little disruption as possible to produce agricultural yields to feed nations.
  • Rising food prices are compounded by seasonal price fluctuations, making it more important than ever to stabilise fluctuations in maize prices.
  • Safeguarding Africa’s rich biodiversity, forests and other carbon sinks is key to increasing agricultural yields.

In the long term:

Continental and regional approaches — The AU has taken the lead in the rollout and implementation of continental response measures. At the regional level, the Regional Economic Communities should develop strategies to strengthen markets, harmonise key policies and implement measures that will expedite and improve cross-border trade for agriculture and food. International development partners should leverage trust built for better engagement when aiming to strengthen continental and regional approaches.

Trade will remain a priority in the medium to long term in relation to offering African products access to foreign markets when the international market seeks new trading partners as they lessen their dependence on Russia. The African Continental Free Trade Area is ideally placed to strengthen regional trade integration initiatives, and unblock impediments to the transport of vital agricultural and food products while providing opportunities for new markets and strengthening supply chains.

Climate resilience in Africa’s food systems — Climate change is disrupting weather patterns, which in turn are impeding the growth and productivity of African food systems. Estimates claim that climate change has the potential to erase 15% of the gross domestic product by 2030, leading to an additional 100 million people being forced into poverty by the end of the decade. Therefore, climate-resilient technologies must be promoted to provide opportunities to increase African food production and productivity while building resilience and reducing poverty and hunger.

Climate change is expected to become the leading threat to global food security. African policy analysts should focus on formulating long-term sustainable solutions aimed at strengthening crop resilience and adaptability as we all grapple with the effects of climate change. International development partners can play an influential role in providing support to African countries in their policy development and implementation processes, which could lead to more sustainable, longer-term solutions aimed at strengthening their agricultural production capacity.

Research and development (R&D) — Investment in agricultural and food system R&D is crucial to improving agricultural productivity. The focus should be crop variety to produce climate and nutrition-friendly crops, detecting regions best suited for optimal harvests, increasing food and nutrition security and resilience to shocks. The Ukraine conflict has exposed new vulnerabilities in Africa’s food supply system that require more R&D to address immediate concerns while also planning for longer-term concerns.

Promotion of local substitutes — Food producers in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Kenya and Nigeria have experimented with mixing cheaper alternatives to wheat flour into their breads, pastries and pastas. Ethiopia has promoted the use of indigenous grains, such as teff, as a suitable substitute for wheat. Local rice, cassava flour and sorghum are also being used as substitutes. International development partners experienced in genetic diversity in agriculture should encourage the promotion of local crop substitutes, as domestic crops are less exposed to trade disruptions or global inflation, which offers some protection from food price increases brought on by external shocks.

Multi-partner diverse stakeholder inclusion — It is important to promote the inclusion and adoption of a wide variety of stakeholders, including governments, the private sector, civil society and philanthropic organisations, to help the most vulnerable in communities and to be proactive actors in the pursuit of coordinated solutions. Fragmented interventions will not lead to optimal results.

Recommendations for Africa’s partners:

  • While the Ukraine conflict may be prioritised and development aid may be redirected, it is critical that cuts in development aid to partner countries are avoided.
  • Continue to support African countries as they formulate and implement initiatives to mitigate the fallout from the war in Ukraine.
  • Prioritise and strengthen response initiatives, particularly those that include partner countries, for a higher chance of success.
  • As demonstrated during the Covid-19 pandemic, Africa will need international development partners to speak for it and raise awareness, if grain and fertiliser hoarding occurs, as was evident with Covid-19 vaccine hoarding.
  • It is essential to design and implement policies and strategies that anticipate global shocks to be able to recalibrate focus and intended funding when required.

In short, African countries are formulating response measures aimed at boosting the continent’s resilience to the food insecurity caused by the Ukraine war. To strengthen these response measures, international partners should provide assistance and share their expertise to increase the prospects of success and sustainability beyond the war.

This article first appeared in Mail & Guardian on 29 March 2023.

Head of Programme: Governance Delivery and Impact | Website | + posts

Craig Moffat, PhD is the Head of Programme: Governance Delivery and Impact for Good Governance Africa. He has more than 17 years of practical experience working for government institutions and multilateral organisations. He was previously employed by the South African Foreign Service, where he worked extensively at identifying and analysing security threats towards South Africa as well as the southern Africa region. Previously, he was the political advisor for the Pretoria Regional Delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross. He holds a PhD in Political Science from Stellenbosch University.