Rising demand for food in Africa can serve as an engine for economic development and improved nutrition across the continent. But for that to happen the region's governments must invest more in developing their agri-industrial bases and boosting intracontinental trade in agricultural products, UN Food and Agriculture Organization Director-General José Graziano da Silva said Sept. 26.

Food imports to Africa have been rising for a number of decades, helping drive consumers towards less nutritious diets and contributing to higher levels of obesity -- while at the same time limiting economic opportunities for domestic food producers, noted Graziano da Silva in remarks made at an event on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

Pointing out that the value of Africa's food market is expected to more than triple in value by 2030 to $1 trillion annually, he said that in addition to core investments, enhanced regional trade would be vital in unlocking opportunities for African food producers and processors in the future.

With this potential engine for sustainable development in mind, in March 2018 regional governments announced their intention to establish an Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) aimed at creating an integrated market accounting for an overall GDP of $3 trillion and encompassing some 1.3 billion consumers. So far, 49 African governments have signed on to the initiative.

"Agro-industrialization enables Africa to preserve its seasonal and abundant fruits and vegetables to be available all over the year", said FAO's Director-General, adding: "Agro-industrial development that connects family farmers, herders and fisher folks to rewarding markets can create opportunities for young people, stimulate greener practices throughout the food system and deliver healthier and safer food to consumers."

FAO is working with the African Union Commission (AUC) to support enhanced agricultural and food trade in a variety of ways, including the development of the Union's Agribusiness Strategy. And FAO is working with a wide range of partners on the Accelerator for Agriculture and Agro-industry Development and Innovation (3ADI+) initiative, which is working to develop inclusive, efficient, sustainable and competitive agriculture and food value chains and market systems across the continent.


The Director-General also emphasized how agro-industralization can support the production of local food in Africa, which potentially reduces the dependence of the import of processed food. This has a proven strong connection with the increase of obesity and overweight, which is deeply affecting Africa also as part of a global pandemic, he said.

Youth will lead the way

Africa's youth will have a huge role to play in the agro-industrialization process already unfolding on the continent, according to Graziano da Silva.

Noting that over 60 percent of Africa's population of 1.2 billion people are under 25, he highlighted the vast resource of talent that its large pool of young people represents.

"Young people tend to be more innovative, tend to focus more on higher growth markets, and are more responsive to new economic opportunities and trends. They have the spirit and talent that are needed to revitalize and rejuvenate the agricultural sector and boost growth," he said.

Graziano da Silva was speaking during an event held during UN nited General Assembly to discuss progress in implementing the Third Industrial Development Decade for Africa (IDDA III).