Mostafa Terrab: Africa could be the Solution to global food crisis

The “imbalance” between fertilizers’ production input and the global market’s needs is one the major factors resulting in the food crisis today.

Home to 60% of unused arable land in the world, Africa is going to be part of the solution to the global food crisis, according to OCP CEO Mostafa Terrab.

Speaking at an event on global food and energy security in Washington DC yesterday, Terrab said that to support Africa’s agricultural capacity, stakeholders should first change their mindset on the continent, and focus on its potential.

As the world today faces the prospect of unprecedented food shortages, Terrab reiterates that adverse global circumstances are only uncovering prior vulnerabilities that pre-date the war in Ukraine and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Putting things in context is very important. There is a visible crisis today; a shortfall of fertilizers today, but we should recognize that what’s visible today has been revealed by a crisis, but is based on a long-term situation that we have to address,” the CEO pointed out.

According to Terrab, the “imbalance” between fertilizer production and global market needs is a major factor resulting in the food crisis today. “Half of food production today is supported by mineral fertilizers, so it is critical to have the availability of those fertilizers.”

In addition to the fertilizer supply bottleneck, the OCPCEO highlighted the issue of rising fertilizer prices, recalling that the prices were rising before the war in Ukraine. “Two or three years ago, we saw this imbalance between supply and demand heavily impact prices.”

The rise in fertilizer prices is causing a compound effect on agriculture input. The effect is evident in the rising fertilizer prices that contribute directly to the increase in food prices, driving some farmers to opt out of cultivating crops as they cannot reasonably pass the cost on to consumers.

The world at a ‘food deficit’

“Within one season, the world will no longer have the appropriate capacity to produce enough food to sustain the global population due to the rising fertilizer prices,” Norway’s Minister of International Development commented, Anne Beathe Tvinnereim.

“We should focus on Africa, as it is the continent hardest hit by the crisis and we need to focus on small-scale farmers. 80% of the food in developing countries is produced by small-scale farmers, and 30% to 40% of the food consumed in the world comes from farms below 2 hectares,” the Norwegian minister explained.

She continued by stressing that the world can support smallholding farmers to face climate change, by offering access to smart agronomics, climate-smart production methods, and finance.

Shedding light on the untapped capacity in Africa, Beathe Tvinnereim explained that while there is a food crisis, “Africa imports $56 billion worth of food from other continents every year, while at the same time, it is home to 65% of the world’s left arable land, so this is also an opportunity to make Africa the bread basket that they should be.”

Africa’s green revolution

While strengthening the continent’s fertilizer supply only addresses half of the problem that agriculture in Africa faces, a lack of financing continues to be problematic.

Accentuating the need for the support of an authentic African green revolution, the OCPCEO said that “we need to rethink what a green revolution would look like in Africa, it can’t be like in other green revolutions, it has to be small landholders-focused, and even the way we produce and use fertilizers should be different.”

For Terrab, Africa has already proved its capacity to pave its unique path with the telecom revolution. “We don’t think about it, but 20 years ago, there has already been an African revolution that didn’t follow the path of the other ones, which is the telecom one, and Africa dared to go mobile from the outset.”

The CEO recalled how previous African initiatives led to the first mobile payment by M-PESA in Kenya.

“It was courageous at the time, it was deciding that African countries would not go down the same path of development as other developing countries, mainly no need to increase landline density to go mobile from the outset and a lot of innovation came out of that.

Echoing the telecom development in Africa, Terrab argues that technology for fertilizer is there.  Still, there is room for more funding and for institutions to commit to those investments in addition to gaining more support from government policies to enable innovation.


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