Africa’s food systems are at an inflection point. Food demand in sub-Saharan Africa is expected to at least double between 2015 and 2050. Moreover, income growth and urbanization are driving significant changes in consumer demand, including for more varied, nutritious, and value-added foods. Meanwhile, food security remains a challenge—according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, every day, 256 million Africans go hungry, 93% of them in sub-Saharan Africa. Production volatility is expected to grow as climate change increases variability and alters growing conditions. Without significant transformation, Africa’s food systems will not be able to meet the growing and changing needs of consumers, increase food security and resilience, and deliver on the promise of inclusive agricultural transformation.
Africa’s food and nutrition security have been worsened by COVID-19 supply-chain disruptions, movement restrictions, and associated economic downturns. Perhaps even more urgently than before, Africa must accelerate the development and dissemination of agricultural technologies and innovations.
For this reason, CGIAR’s International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are co-organizing a series of virtual workshops from 2 to 4 March 2021 to share experiences and lessons learned from scaling and commercializing agricultural technologies to improve food safety and nutrition.
Entitled Scaling of Agricultural Innovations through Commercialization for Sustainable Food-System Transformation, the series of three webinars will cover private-sector engagement, and how to create an enabling environment for the transformation of food systems through commercialization and strategic partnerships.
“Strengthening food systems to meet the challenges of the 21st century will require continued investment in adaptive and appropriate agricultural technologies,” observed Nteranya Sanginga, Director General of IITA. “For such technologies to be widely adopted and scaled, they must be rooted in a strong understanding of the market dynamics and enabling country systems. Coordinated and concerted effort from a range of actors including governments, private sector companies, investors, donors, researchers and civil society, will be required to jointly bring the most promising solutions to scale,” Sanginga continued.
Food safety is now a precondition for access to global food markets, and increasingly, to high-value domestic markets in developing countries. Foodborne diseases afflict 91 million Africans every year, with 137,000 dying—one-third of the global death toll.
If left unaddressed, food-safety barriers will continue to impede intra-African trade, even as the African Continental Free Trade Area came into force last month, in January 2021. Therefore, as we rethink the future of global food systems, food safety needs to be given priority to help attain the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
“One of the main hindrances to food safety is aflatoxin contamination, which afflicts some of the continent’s key staples such as maize, groundnuts, and sorghum,” said Matieyedou Konlambigue, Managing Director, Aflasafe Technology Transfer Program.
Aflatoxin is a natural poison from toxin-producing types of the Aspergillus fungus. Because aflatoxin contaminates food, consistent exposure results in the poison building up in our bodies and damaging our health, sometimes leading to rapid death when build-up is acute.
According to the African Union’s Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa, aflatoxin alone is responsible for 30% of liver cancer cases globally, with the highest incidence (more than 40%) occurring in Africa. Trade-wise, Africa loses an estimated USD 670 million in potential export trade alone due to aflatoxin contamination. “If we are to effectively fight aflatoxin, there must be cross-sectoral convergence in technology, markets, policy and institutions, as well as behavior change,” says Sanginga.
Researchers have developed smallholder-friendly technological breakthroughs and practices that—together—reduce aflatoxin contamination along the agricultural value chains from plot to plate. Proper postharvest grain drying, sorting, and storage all control aflatoxin contamination. Hermetic storage technologies developed and promoted by several organizations such as the Purdue Improved Crop Storage (PICS) from Purdue University halt contamination. There are new tools for farmers themselves to monitor postharvest grain moisture content. There is also Aflasafe®—the commercial name for a natural product applied pre-harvest, already in use in several African countries. Aflasafe was developed by IITA, in partnership with the Agricultural Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA–ARS) and respective national institutions in Africa. Aflasafe consistently reduces aflatoxin contamination in groundnuts, maize, and sorghum by between 80% and 100% when the crop is in the field. An integrated aflatoxin management system combining these technologies along the entire value chain would significantly contribute to producing safe and nutritious food in Africa.
During this webinar series, speakers and participants from the research, private sector, national governments, non-governmental organizations, development finance institutions and funders will discuss the scaling experience of these innovations. They will also deliberate on the future of innovations development and commercialization to improve food safety and nutrition.
‘’The outcomes of this event will contribute to our ongoing efforts to ensure scalability and sustainability of our investments,” added Sanginga.
The webinar series will also be highly relevant to discussions in the lead-up to the upcoming United Nations Food Systems Summit, especially Action Track 1: Ensure access to safe and nutritious food for all.