Aanu Akinyemi
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Did you have a meal this morning? Have you eaten today? If you did, it’s all thanks to the men and women who made available the food that you ate (from the farmer also called the producer to the processor, transporter and Marketer) together they all constitute a part of the food system.

Food system…? What do you mean; I imagine some of you asking.

Food System:

The food system is a natural and economic structure that allows a community to feed itself starting with the farmers and then passes through several value chains before it finally gets to the consumers table.

Also, it includes all processes and infrastructure involved in feeding a population such as growing, harvesting, processing, packaging, transporting, marketing, consumption and disposal of food and food related item according to Wikipedia.

However if a food system is not designed to be sustainable, then more harm than good may be the result in the long haul.

The question now dear reader is how do we build a food system that is sustainable? Another question you may want to ask is what does sustainable food system means?

A sustainable food system is understood as a system that ensures food security and nutrition for all without compromising the economic, social, and environmental bases of such systems for future generations.

Considering the fact that the food production system is an amalgam of activities it is imperative to discuss them which include:


With regards to the subject matter being discussed, the production of food spans from pre-planting, and planting operations which also includes harvesting of food produce.

Food production in Sub-Saharan countries has been increasing for the most part as more and more forest lands are cleared for agriculture.

However it is only through optimal yield per acreage that we have observed real progress.

There are a number of factors hindering optimum produce of which includes Rainfall, and urbanization.

Official data indicate that no continent urbanized more rapidly than sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).

The continent’s urban population share rose by a factor of 3.2, from 11% in 1950 to 36% in 2010. As a result of this, World Bank Development data indicate that per capita incomes in SSA grew slower than any other area of the world.

Urbanization refers to a rising share of the urban population in total population; a country is urbanizing if year-over-year a larger share of its population is living in urban areas rather than rural areas according to Wikipedia.

The continent is also projected by the United Nations (UN) to continue urbanizing faster than any other in the world, with the urban population share nearly doubling from its current 26% to 51% by 2040.

Considering the fact most of the individuals in the rural areas are farmers, these shows a decline in the subsistence farming being practiced in the rural area, which in turn decreases the production of food, thereby maligning the initial stages of the food system process.

As noted above, SSA has been rapidly urbanizing for many years. According to a United Nations report, urban population is rising over 4% per year in east Africa. Southern Africa has a higher urbanization levels, the growth is estimated at 2%. Taken as a whole, urban populations in Sub-Saharan Africa are growing at about 3% per year, but with great variability as these figures indicate.

Meanwhile rural populations are estimated to be increasing only by 2% per year in East Africa and near zero in Southern Africa.

Overall, rural populations are rising about 1% per year but, again, with many variations across countries and regions. Many low and middle incomes households in Africa are likely to have a growing share of urban food demand which will be met by importation of food thereby disrupting the food production systems of indigent countries.


In sub-Saharan Africa, limited infrastructure and transport services have occasionally disrupted food production and circulation.

In 1988, in different regions of Tanzania, half of the cotton’s harvest, 80% of rice paddy, and half of the seeds, fertilizer, and herbicides were lost due to inadequate rural transport.

Also in Zambia, the good 1985 harvest was ruined because crops could not be taken to storage before the rainy season began, a Shortage of fuel and poor road maintenance made deliveries slow and treacherous.

For Africa to reach its goal of a sustainable food system, adequate attention should be given to building good infrastructural road network which would enable the transportation sector to serve the agricultural sector better.


The marketing chain begins with a middleman who buys produce from rural markets or directly from individual farmers. The middlemen are the main link between geographically scattered small farms in rural areas and the distribution network of wholesale and retail markets in urban areas.

A middleman who has come to purchase banana's from an individual banana farmer

Sometimes, they also sell directly to consumers. However, inefficient handling and high levels of deterioration and wastage, especially in the case of perishables are some of the challenges faced in-between process of farm to table.

These challenges thereby increase the cost of purchasing food in the marketplace.

Agricultural policies in Sub-Saharan Africa

Despite the prioritization of the agricultural sector, FAO’s Monitoring and Analyzing Food and Agricultural Policies (MAFAP) program shows overall decreasing trend in the share of public resources channeled to agriculture in the ten countries reviewed in 2013.

These countries include Burkina Faso, Mali, Ghana, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, Malawi, and Mozambique.

These countries have spent public funds on a broad range of other sectors without paying much attention to agriculture. Hence there is a need for more funds to be directed towards the agricultural sector especially from the budgetary proposals of countries.

The strategic development of the agricultural sector would benefit from increased policy focus on infrastructure, research, and development.

Precision Agriculture

Precision agriculture is the idea of using state of the art technology to help farmers gather data on their crops and utilizing those insights to improve growing practices that are more efficient and use fewer resources.

For example, in Europe, PepsiCo developed new agriculture software called I-crop 2.0, with Cambridge University.

I-crop 2.0 produces data about how crops, like potatoes, are growing, this helps farmers better understand how to optimize yields and inputs like water and fertilizer thereby reducing excess resource usage and greenhouse gas impacts.

If such technology is applied here in Africa, it will have a tremendous impact in building a sustainable food economy for Africa.

Sourcing local foods

The cost of making food available for all also comes with some cost that impacts the environment, transportation of food from one value chain (e.g a food processing facility) to the next should not be measured only in dollar signs, but in carbon emissions too.

Processing facility carbon emission

When you buy food from local farmers, you’re contributing to your community’s economy and also decreasing your impact on Mother Nature since the end goal is to achieve sustainability while ensuring food security now and in the future.

Financial investment

The Netherlands is a small nation, but it exports the second-highest amount of food in terms of value, after the United States of America. The Netherlands exports of agricultural goods reached an estimated value of 94.5 billion Euros in 2019, an increase of 4.6 percent on the previous year


The Dutch have invested in sustainable agriculture. They get innovative, using indoor farming techniques to make the most of every square inch of land. They also forgo most chemical pesticides so they can keep their soil fertile.

Investment from governmental agencies, international organizations, and private enterprises will boost Food production in the continent.

Recent examples include Brazil, China, and Vietnam, each of which at least doubled the value of its agricultural sector within 20 years of starting its transformation as financial commitment to the agriculture sector increased, in 2019, public expenditure on agriculture, forestry, and water resource projects in China had amounted to around 2.24 trillion Yuan.

Tackling Post-harvest losses

United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimate that the world produces enough food waste (about 1.4 billion tons) to feed as many as 2 billion people each year. This is roughly one-third of the global food supply.

Rotten banana
Rotten tomato

There is a need for innovation and creativity.

For example, Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu, whose family are farmers in rural Imo State in Nigeria’s south-east, has created the Cold Hub, a mobile, solar-powered cold storage facility.

Farmers pay a meager daily fee for each crate of food stored and it is estimated that farmers have massively reduced their food losses, according to him.

“Nigeria is home to the largest tomato production belt in West Africa, yet farmers are losing more than 50% of their crops due to a lack of cold storage. So we came up with solar-powered, walk-in cold rooms capable of extending the life of food by up to 21 days. My goal is to introduce these hubs to all developing countries” Emeka said.


Innovations like this would go a long way in achieving a sustainable food system if empowered with funds.

To round up this article, I will like to mention that transforming Africa’s narrative in a positive way economically and ensuring food production system development and sustainability; is a responsibility all Africans must take seriously and this cannot be achieved without the collaborative efforts of the private sector, government, research institutes and foundations with a bias for the agricultural sector.

The private sector, government, research institutes and foundations are key stakeholders, who should facilitate dialogue among themselves, promote coordination of interventions and overall alignment of investments in the food and agricultural production system. Additionally, these platforms would bring about the required systemic change as the saying goes, it will take a village to achieve this!


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Aanu Akinyemi

Aanu is a young and vibrant Agronomist currently working in the research department at Farmsocio.com. His dream is to become a Breeding Scientist with the goal of ensuring food security in Africa.


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