African smallholder farmers who nurtured a diverse ecosystem and a healthy living soil, fed generations of Africans with healthy, culturally acceptable, and nutritious crops – all without the use of pesticides, fertilizers, or other industrial methods that are harmful to Africans’ health. All this has resulted, in Africa’s diets being among the healthiest on the planet.
However, things are changing fast. Multinational corporations are aggressively attempting to take over food systems in Africa (and around the world) by dumping cheap, low-quality agricultural commodities and promoting highly processed (or ultra-processed) foods, contributing to the rise of diet-related health issues.
These multinationals, however, often sell these foods as safer than local foods, which are often portrayed as unsanitary. Nevertheless, the fact is that the industrialization of food in Africa raises the possibility of dangerous – and occasionally fatal – food safety accidents.
In addition to harming the environment, losing biodiversity, eroding culture, and infesting the continent with junk foods, corporate control of Africa’s food systems has contributed to food and health crises across the continent.
Multinational businesses have infiltrated Africa’s food systems, producing and distributing ultra-processed items at the cost of smallholder farmers who have been supplying safe and nutritious meals for centuries.
At the same time, an increasing number of individuals in Africa are disconnected from the food production system, particularly in metropolitan areas. Many people have no idea where their food originates from. Furthermore, food perception is influenced and dependent on media advertising from globalized, industrialized food systems.
The industrial food system gives a standardized and systematized view of what constitutes healthy and tasty food. These ostensibly nutritious and appealing fast foods are offered to the African populace via different market channels.
The social movements’ call came following the conclusion of the 4th Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA)’s Biennial Food Systems Conference, which was held in Yaoundé, Cameroon, from November 28-30, 2022, under the title of “Mobilising African Food Policy and Action for Healthy Food Systems.”
The conference brought together diverse actors from over 30 countries and drew over 170 participants call for a comprehensive Africa Food Policy that addresses Africa’s need to feed itself in the face of global uncertainty and climate change.
“The current conventional food system is flawed,” said AFSA Chair Dr. Chris Macoloo, “The food system based on the industrial agriculture narrative has failed to feed the world and Africa by generating toxic foods, polluting the environment, and fueling climate crises.”
By giving an Afrocentric roadmap to healthy diets and sustainable food systems, the conference provided hope and optimism for a much-needed alternative solution to food insecurity, mounting public health disorders, and the climate catastrophe.
In recognition of the African Union’s Year of Nutrition 2022, this year’s conference highlighted novel approaches for learning and celebrating African food cultures, foods, diets, and cuisines to advance an African perspective on nutrition and food systems.
H.E. Gabriel Mbairobe, Cameroon’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development delivered the official opening remark of the conference where he reminded the participants that “Africa’s food security is hugely impacted by the war in Ukraine and it is time for Africa to start looking for ideas and strategies to produce our food with lower prices that guarantee healthier, accessible and sustainable food.”
“Only if we invest in boosting our capacity to respond to various crises will Africans be able to survive and thrive. Agroecology is the best and most efficient way to build a food system that increases community resilience to climate change, provides healthy and sustainable diets, and protects the environment,” Dr. Million Belay, General Coordinator of AFSA guided.
The conference also marked the publication of the new book “My Food is African: Healthy Soil, Safe Foods, and Diverse Diets” as part of the “My Food is African” campaign. The book intends to spark people’s interest in learning about Africa’s unique, delicious, and healthy foods and cultures thereby fostering a safer, healthier, and more sustainable path to food sovereignty.
“African endogenous solutions are required to address the problems of food insecurity, hunger, and poverty on the continent,” stated Charles Mulozi, AFSA’s Advocacy and Campaign Coordinator. “Africa needs to start celebrating its vast diversity, which is reflected in its diverse cultures, languages, and cuisine.”
At the end of the conference, AFSA members and participants call on African Union, African Governments and social movements around the world to become strategic partners in strengthening the institutional capacities of farming communities in their continued pursuit of economically and ecologically viable farming practices.
This should include agroecology that enhances increased food outputs, improves income for farmers and provides nutrition security for the local communities at low costs while delivering huge returns on investment, both socio-economic and for the environment.
“African governments should channel funding towards agroecology, which builds resilience in food systems in the event of unpredictable events such as the novel COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, the potential uprising in China, China’s war with Taiwan which holds food availability and food accessibility hostage in Africa,” AFSA members and participants urged.
AFSA members and participants called on the African Union Commission (AUC) to anchor the development of the emerging Food Systems Policy on African’s diverse cultural foods and dishes and recognize their great value to people’s health and nutritional security.
“The donor communities to direct funding towards up scaling My food is African campaign, aligning policies and programmes towards the transition to agroecology which supports the consumption of healthy and culturally appropriate food and increased investments in agroecological investments,” AFSA members and participants called upon.
We cannot afford to rely solely on a few food crops, as this lowers the nutritional value of our diets, leaves our food system vulnerable to the climate crises and weakens our ability to adapt.