Food security, war in Ukraine and climate crisis in the spotlight as African Development Bank meets

Food security, war in Ukraine and climate crisis in the spotlight as African Development Bank meets
African Development Bank (AfDB) President Akinwumi Adesina. (Photo: Clemens Bilan / Pool / Getty Images)

Food security was the buzzword at the opening of the African Development Bank’s annual meetings, in Accra, Ghana, on Tuesday, with $1.5bn recently approved by the bank for an Emergency Food Production Facility.

Russia’s war on Ukraine, as well as the economic aftermath of Covid-19, were mentioned at the opening session of the African Development Bank’s annual meetings, in Accra, Ghana, on Tuesday as the immediate crises affecting African economies, but the climate crisis is considered equally pressing. It was the theme of this year’s meetings: “Achieving climate resilience and a just energy transition”. 

None of these three crises was of Africa’s making, and as for Covid-19, it was remarked at the opening session that though the health implications weren’t so bad for Africa, the continent had taken the worst hit economically. 

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The African Development Bank (AfDB) president, Akinwumi Adesina, said Africa was the lowest emitter of carbon emissions in the world, accounting for only 4% of all global greenhouse emissions.  

“Yet the continent suffers disproportionately from the impacts of climate change, including the increased frequency and intensity of droughts, cyclones, floods, compounded by desertification,” Adesina said. He added that the Africa Disaster Risk insurance facility was helping nine countries to pay for insurance premiums to protect themselves and their populations against climate change disasters. Madagascar, for example, got $12-million in payouts when hit by a cyclone recently. 

“Climate change is simply short-changing African economies. Africa suffers $7-billion to $15-billion a year in losses to climate change, which are projected to rise to $40-billion per year by 2030. Africa has no choice but to adapt to climate change that it did not cause.” 

Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana represented South Africa at the event. Adesina, at a media breakfast on Monday, devoted a few minutes to explain how the AfDB would work with the South African government and the Bank of America to raise $27-billion — leveraged from the $8.5-billion launched as part of COP26 — to support the country’s just energy transition. 

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European war effects

There were no value judgments or political pronouncements about the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, but there was talk about how to overcome the economic effects of the conflict on the continent.

Adesina said the bank’s Feed Africa programme had already benefited 76 million farmers in Africa and could help more. Adesina, billed as “Africa’s optimist-in-chief”, hinted that the AfDB’s initiative to boost food security in Africa was going so well that “we will not be talking about a looming food crisis in Africa if Russia did not invade Ukraine”.

Sudan, for example, reduced its wheat imports by 50% through AfDB programmes, while Ethiopia recently expanded its wheat production from 5,000 hectares of the heat-tolerant wheat varieties it got from the bank to 650,000 hectares. 

“Ethiopia did not import wheat this year,” Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed told Adesina. 

Next year, Ethiopia’s wheat production is expected to go up to two million hectares and at least 1.5 to two million metric tons are expected to be exported to Kenya and Djibouti. Ahmed also expanded on the $1.5-billion Africa Emergency Food Production Facility, which was jointly developed with the African Union Commission “to tackle the looming food crisis in Africa from Russia’s war in Ukraine”. 

The plan “will be used to support African countries to produce food rapidly”. It would yield 38 million metric tons of food, including wheat, maize, rice and soybeans, totalling $12-billion in value — “a leverage factor of eight times”, he said. 

Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo sounded like he relished being able to host the meetings — the first since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic two years ago — amid the current global hardships. 

“These meetings, being held at a critical period in history when Africa, like the rest of the world, is dealing with the twin effects of Covid-19 and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, could not find a better venue than our vibrant capital city of Accra,” he said during the opening session. 

The “consequences of the Russian invasion of Ukraine” were “compounding socioeconomic vulnerabilities”, already heightened by Covid-19, he said.

Prices of staple food commodities had surged drastically since February, he said. 

“Africa faces a fertiliser shortage of some two million metric tons this year, estimated at $2-billion, according to the International Fund for Agricultural Development, potentially creating a productivity deficit of 20% to 50% in agriculture,” he said.  

African families spend about 40% of household income on food, compared to 20% in advanced economies, meaning an increase in food prices hits the continent the hardest. 

Akufo-Addo has some first-hand experience of rumblings in the populace about rising prices, as many ordinary people here blame his government for the price increases. Ghana’s inflation rate reached 23.6% in April, the highest since 2004. Food inflation increased to 26.6% while non-food inflation increased to 21.3%. 

AU chair to visit Russia and Ukraine

Meanwhile, on a political level, African Union chair and Senegalese President Macky Sall earlier this week announced in Dakar that he would travel to Russia and Ukraine soon on behalf of the AU. He got a formal mandate for this from the AU Head of State Bureau which sat a week or so ago. Sall made the announcement at a joint press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Sunday, who visited Senegal before he paid a state visit to South Africa on Tuesday. 

International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor told the SABC’s Sophie Mokoena that Scholz had visited both Russia and Ukraine and, like South Africa, was seeking a negotiated outcome to the conflict. Germany is negatively affected by the conflict because of its gas and oil trade with Russia.

Pandor said South Africa would continue, through President Cyril Ramaphosa, to argue for a diplomatic approach to the conflict “and we hope that the efforts of President Macky Sall will gain traction”. 

It is believed Ramaphosa pushed for Sall to visit both Ukraine and Russia to speak to both sides in the conflict. Pandor told SABC that South Africa was somewhat cushioned from the immediate effect of the conflict because of its good grain harvest in recent years, but believed that in the longer term the “knock-on effect” of the conflict would also be felt locally. 

African heads of state are due to meet Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky after he requested such meetings. 

AU leaders are set to gather in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, on Wednesday for an Extraordinary AU Summit on Terrorism and Unconstitutional Changes of Government, which might present Zelensky with an opportunity to address them. 

Less than half of African states, including South Africa, abstained or did not vote in two United Nations resolutions on the conflict in Ukraine. DM


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