‘Farmers’ organisations have not been consulted’: G7 Africa initiative comes under fire

By Augustus Bambridge-Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

The G7 initiative focused on food insecurity in Africa. Image Source: Getty Images/Richard Drury
The G7 initiative focused on food insecurity in Africa. Image Source: Getty Images/Richard Drury

Related tags G7 food insecurity Food security Africa Climate change

The G7 recently announced plans to address food insecurity in Africa. But to some, the initiative is simply the latest failure to take the views of smallholder farmers into account.

Food insecurity keenly affects many on the African continent. According to the United Nations, in 2022, 281.6 million people across the continent were undernourished. Climate change is a significant part of this, creating significant instability​ in the growth of staple crops.

The G7’s Apuila Food Systems​ aims to tackle food insecurity. It plans to mobilise finance for agriculture adoption and mitigation, using food insurance schemes, debt for food swaps, increased investment by development banks, and support for countries to include food and agriculture in their national climate plans.

The initiative, led by the Italian presidency of the G7, will focus particularly on Africa. 

However, some key stakeholders in African farming communities have criticised the initiative, claiming that it does not take farmers themselves into account. Previous G7 initiatives, they suggest, have failed, and many of the same issues threaten to undermine the goals of this one.

What does the initiative aim to do?

The initiative aims to combat food insecurity in countries where it is prevalent, particularly within the African continent.

It aims to mitigate childhood stunting and wasting from malnutrition which, according to the United Nations (UN), “prevents children from reaching their physical and cognitive potential.”

Debt for nature swaps

Part of the G7's plans is to further develop 'debt swaps'. Debt-for-nature swaps are already an established form of alleviating debt. 

Debt-for-nature swaps are agreements to cut a country’s debt in return for their protecting vital ecosystems. First envisioned by a New York Times ​journalist in 1982, they, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF), help developing countries free up financial resources so they can focus on climate initiatives and other development projects without the fiscal risk.

For example, the world’s biggest debt-for-nature swap last year, reported by Reuters, saw the bank, Credit Suisse, help Ecuador pay off $1.6bn of debt for $644mn. In return, Ecuador agreed to invest $18mn annually for 20 years into conservation of the Galapagos.

It aims to further develop the ‘financial architecture’ for decreasing food insecurity by initiating debt swaps and increasing the cooperation of G7 development banks and development finance institutions (DFIs) to mitigate risk for sustainable agriculture and food systems transformations. It aims to develop a system for rapid response to severe food crises, finance which will include private capital.

“The G7 initiative aims to tackle climate change and food insecurity in Africa. It aims to raise public and private finance to support a range of programmes aimed at promoting healthy soils and indigenous crops, creating more resilient coffee supply chains, and helping countries integrate food and agriculture into national climate plans (so implementing the COP28 UAE Declaration),” Joe Mzinga, regional coordinator for Eastern and Southern Africa Small-Scale Farmers Forum (ESAFF), told FoodNavigator. ESAFF represents 5.5mn smallholder farmers across eastern and southern Africa.

COP28 UAE Declaration on sustainable agriculture, resilient food systems, and climate action

The COP28 UAE Declaration on sustainable agriculture, resilient food systems, and climate action recognised the importance of agriculture and food systems in reaching the goals of the Paris agreement, and outlined several strategies to improve them.

These include scaling up adaptation and resilience activities and responses to protect food workers; supporting food workers; increasing efforts to protect people vulnerable to food insecurity; strengthen water management in food and agriculture; and protect and restore natural ecosystems. Signatories aimed to integrate food and agriculture into national climate plans before COP30.

What are the criticisms of the initiative?

Some African farming communities have criticised the plan for sidelining the perspective of farmers themselves. For example, said Elizabeth Nsimadala from the Eastern Africa Farmers Federation, “mobilising finance to close the huge agriculture adaptation gap is vitally important, but Apulia can’t stop there. It needs to break down the barriers which prevent farmers organisations accessing the affordable, long term finance which they need to adapt.”

ESAFF’s Mzinga agrees, suggesting that the initiative is sidelining smallholder farmers, who are critical to its success.

Mattei plan

The Apuila Food Systems will build on an Italian government plan called the Mattei plan, first unveiled in 2023. With an initial funding of €5.5bn, the plan will put development money into Africa, focusing on five key pillars – education and training, water, agriculture, health and energy. The plan will involve civil society, Italian government agencies, and the private sector.

It will begin with nine pilot projects in Algeria, Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco, Mozambique and Tunisia.

“African farmers organisations have not been consulted in the development of the plan even though we will be key to its success - we account for 70% of the food consumed on the continent and are key to supply chains for commodities such as coffee​ and cocoa​,” he told FoodNavigator.

“As a result the challenges faced by African farmers and the solutions they are pioneering are not reflected in the initiative as it stands. For example - there doesn’t appear to be a plan to ensure more finance gets to small-scale producers where it would have the biggest impact. It's also unclear if finance will be focused on more diverse and nature friendly approaches which are key to climate adaptation (e.g. agroecology).”

According to Mzinga, past G7 initiatives, such as the Global Alliance for Food Security (GAFS) in 2022 and New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition in 2012, have failed for this reason: lack of engagement with key stakeholders.

“Key problems were a failure to engage key stakeholders - such as small-scale producers (women, youth and poor men) - from an early stage to ensure the plans met our needs; the failure to promote a shift to more resilient, sustainable and just food systems and a failure to get finance where it is most needed, including small-scale food producers. Unfortunately Apulia risks repeating many of the same mistakes.”

What is the potential of the initiative?

According to a recent report​ by advisory company Climate Focus, a mere 0.3% of climate finance goes towards small scale family farmers, despite the fact that they produce more than a third of food worldwide. They are, in other words, integral to the food system.

The new initiative, in Mzinga's view, “could have a huge impact - both on food and nutrition security in Africa and on the global supply chains we contribute to - but it will only succeed if the G7 listens to our concerns and works with us to ensure it meets the needs of Africa’s farmers."

Cultivated meat and plant-based for food security

Non-profit The Plenty Foundation believes that one way​ to alleviate food insecurity in Africa is plant-based and cultivated meat. Because of its low land and water use, it requires fewer resources to produce, which is key in an area of the world where resources are scarce.

The organisation aims to distribute its plant-based and cultivated meat hybrids to mitigate food insecurity around Africa, in partnership with NGOs, governments and the private sector (including commercial partner Newform Foods​). It will target those areas which are most affected by malnutrition.

“Key will be ensuring more finance is targeted at family farmers where it can have the most impact.  This won’t happen by chance. It is also critical that finance is used to support a shift to diverse and nature friendly approaches that science tells us are key for adaptation.”

The cocoa and coffee sectors, both of which have seen rising prices recently​, are held aloft by smallholder farmers in Africa.

The plan does include a public-private initiative to increase the resilience of coffee supply chains for smallholder farmers. This is ‘essential’, Mzinga told us. Yet he stressed that such plans must extend beyond a single commodity. For example, it does not, he pointed out, address cocoa.

The initiative focuses on the coffee sector. It must go beyond a single commodity, Mzinga suggested. Image Source: Getty Images/Yaroslav Astakhov

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