African Development Bank releases $1.5 billion to tackle food crisis

Tuesday May 24 2022
Bean harvesting in Machakos, Kenya.

Bean harvesting in Machakos, Kenya. PHOTO | FILE


The African Development Bank (AfDB) has released $1.5 billion to tackle a looming food crisis on the continent.

The funds will be channelled to about 20 million farmers across the continent in the form of purchases for certified seed, fertiliser and better farming technology. The target is to enable farmers to produce at least 38 million tonnes of food this season, according to a decision reached by the Bank’s Board of Governors on Friday.

The decision came as the continent, a net importer of food, faces rising prices of products after the main suppliers—Ukraine and Russia—went to war earlier this year, disrupting production and supply to the global market.

According to the Bank, Africa’s demand for food means that the continent faces a shortage of up to 30 million metric tonnes this year, with wheat, maize and soybeans the most needed.

Dr Akinwumi Adesina, the President of the African Development Bank Group, said the lender is also fighting a continual anomaly: That of using food aid whenever there is a crisis on the continent.

“Food aid cannot feed Africa. Africa does not need bowls in hand. Africa needs seeds in the ground, and mechanical harvesters to harvest bountiful food produced locally.


“Africa will feed itself with pride for there is no dignity in begging for food,” he said on Friday evening after the Board’s approval.

The programme will involve working with government agencies and the private sector to help individual farmers access seeds and other inputs during this year’s varied planting seasons across the continent.

Known as the Emergency Food Production Facility, smallholder farmers pooled under government registers will benefit from common collection points for seed and fertiliser. The Bank estimates that such a programme could increase Africa’s food production by $12 billion in agricultural investment.

Although the Bank approved the funding, the Facility is the brainchild of consultations with governments and other organisations, including those with fertiliser producers as well as the African Union Agriculture and Finance ministers earlier in May.

One of the problems the Bank admits has hurt local agricultural ventures is corruption, which alongside trade barriers for fertiliser and seed means the food remains expensive. The procurement and distribution of inputs should also be transparent, the Bank’s president added.

“The issue will be how to deliver the subsidies in ways that are well targeted using digital technologies and avoid corruption and elite capture,” Dr Adesina said.

“Proven substantial models exist, such as the electronic wallet system used in Nigeria that has a reach of 15 million.”

A former minister for Agriculture in Nigeria, Dr Adesina says he implemented a secure distribution channel to farmers who received seed and fertiliser and he believes that the same system may be applied elsewhere in Africa to cushion farmers from corrupt dealers. The AfDB thinks the private sector should play a leading role but governments should lessen red tape.

Earlier in May, AU member states agreed to remove hurdles for local production of inputs and improving agricultural technology. It was a response to soaring food prices which have increased by at least 45 percent since Russia invaded Ukraine in February. Fertiliser prices have increased three times with Africa facing a shortage of about 2 million metric tonnes this year alone, the Bank’s figures show. If the gap remains unmet, African farmers could produce a fifth less of last year’s yield, equivalent to $11 billion of agricultural value.

The Facility is aiming at preventing that, targeting 11 million tonnes of wheat, 18 million tonnes of maize, 6 million tonnes of rice and 2.5 million tonnes of soybeans; by giving inputs, technological services and extension services and post-harvest storage and marketing.

This week, the Bank will be holding its annual meetings in Accra, Ghana, where the food crisis and Covid-19 recovery are expected to feature.