The disruption of grain deliveries from Ukraine is an opportunity for countries African countries to increase their food production at home, the African Union’s Commissioner for rural economy and agriculture, Josefa Sacko, has said.
Speaking to the European media, she said Ukraine and Russia made up significant of worldwide grain and oilseed exports and countries, mainly from Africa, dependent on imported wheat and other products imports were seriously affected by the disruptions and price spikes.
Some of the affected countries were Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Nigeria, Kenya, and Benin.
Speaking to the media on the sidelines of the Berlin Agriculture Ministers Conference in Germany last Saturday, Sacko warned that food shortages and high prices pose a high risk of social unrest in many African countries.
“In Africa, we are very vulnerable to such conflicts,” she said while pointing to the beginning of the Arab Spring in Egypt, where protests were triggered in 2010 by high bread prices,” she said.
“As policymakers, we should take this as an opportunity to change the narrative, change our approach. Look at Ethiopia today: this year, they are going to export wheat because last year, when the (Ukraine/Russia war started, they started producing it.”
She said Africa was spending US$45 billion every year on food imports – money that could be spent instead on developing the domestic agriculture sector.
Sacko added said that, on a free international market, it is fair for Europe to export its products, but that African countries would be able to offer their produce at more competitive prices once production on the continent is ramped up.
“We cannot tell Europeans not to produce. But once we start producing, it will be competitive – people will see the price,” she explained.
Sacko said the African Union was encouraging its member states to leverage the possibilities held by their agricultural land by investing in domestic production and thereby creating jobs and wealth.
“With 60% of arable land so far uncultivated, there is a large potential to ramp up agricultural production, she added. “We have the ecosystem to feed Africa and to feed the world.”
Europe’s push to decrease over-reliance on third-country food production is unavoidable due to the pandemic. Still, it could come in handy for encouraging African domestic production, according to the president of the UN’s Rome-based International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).