Two-day Agri-Indaba in South Africa concludes with calls for greater action

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September 6th 2022

South Africa: A two-day policy dialogue on agriculture and food systems in the SADC region concluded in Pretoria, South Africa, with SADC urging member states to move quickly to engage all relevant stakeholders in turning policies, strategies, and plans into actual implementation to enable the region to build sustainable agricultural and food systems.

The dialogue was organized to find solutions to shocks and stresses to the region’s agricultural and food systems including global economic disruptions and adverse weather events that have increased food insecurity in the region through rising food, fertiliser, and fuel prices.

In addition, the event was organized to prepare the region’s academics and policymakers for the African Union-organised fertilizer and soil health summit which will be held in June 2023.

The  Alliance for African Partnership (AAP) and its members, the University of Pretoria which hosted the event, and the Regional Network of Agriculture Policy Research (ReNAPRI) – a network of 12 African agricultural policy research institutes organised the event. The dialogue drew scholars, scientists, and policy analysts from universities, research institutions, think tanks from the SADC region and beyond, and UN agencies such as WFP, FAO, and UNECA. Malawi was represented by LUANAR, CISANET, MwAPATA Policy Institute, and Shire Basin Environmental Support Trust.

In her opening remarks, South Africa’s Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, Thoko Didiza urged the gathered researchers and policymakers to deliberate and come up with concrete actions to enable the region better respond to challenges including those induced by climate change, and deteriorating soils.

The minister noted that soil health is critical for sustainable agricultural and food systems and that it is important to explore the best solutions to soil nutrition that are not harmful to soil health.

“Since the Abuja Declaration on Fertilizer in 2006, we have observed that countries throughout Africa have implemented a variety of strategies to improve farmer access to fertilisers and complementary inputs with the goal of increasing productivity. While these strategies have been implemented, our soils have degraded, resulting in losses in soil fertility and biological processes. It is therefore critical to implement strategies that will improve soil health and responsiveness to fertilisers,” Didiza said.

While Tawana Kupe, Vice Chancellor of the University of Pretoria, noted that as the region strives to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 2, which advocates for zero hunger by 2030, there is a need to pay attention to external agri-food system factors such as soil depletion and soil pollution if hunger is to be defeated.

The dialogue was funded through the EU’s support to the SADC Secretariat, as part of the Secretariat’s effort to intensify collaboration with knowledge institutions including universities, think tanks and research institutes on the way to the implementation of SADC’s developmental priorities to address the multitude of challenges that beset the southern African region.

In his address to the participants, Domingos Gove, SADC’s Director of Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources, stated that African institutions such as AAP and ReNAPRI must own SADC processes by actively participating in the implementation of all regional integration actions. He noted that the region had done little to implement key decisions and declarations including, the 2004 Dar es Salaam Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security in the SADC Region, the 2014 Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods, the 2014 Regional Agricultural Policy (RAP), and the 2017 Regional Agriculture Integrated Policy (RAIP). 

Participants at the dialogue pointed out the need to integrate regional and continental decisions and protocols into national programmes, scaling up research beyond national borders while leveraging partnerships, and capacity development for advocacy to enable negotiators to engage on policies and articulate climate change and soil health issues. Participants further called for context-relevant research on issues of fertilizer and soil health, and broad partnerships that include the private sector.

Professor Richard Mkandawire, Africa Director of the Alliance for African Partnership (AAP) stated that while the region remains sluggish in its approach, other regions are moving quickly.

“What our region needs are radical interventions. We cannot continue doing business as usual. We need to think outside the box, we need disruptive thinking that will challenge the status quo to truly transform this region. We need to be running and not walking,” said Mkandawire.

During the dialogue, the dynamics and issues surrounding the SADC region’s agri-food systems, as well as the main shocks and stressors affecting agri-food systems, integrated soil fertility with a focus on soil health, and the benefits of fertiliser use were discussed.

By Tiwonge Kampondeni