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Transforming Africa’s Food Systems “not only possibility, also a necessity”: Jesuit Priest

A poster announcing the June 22-24 Webinar on Food Sovereignty in Sub-Saharan Africa. Credit: JENA

The President of the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar (JCAM) has, at a conference on Food Sovereignty, underscored the need for Africans to have stronger and secure food systems.

Speaking at the virtual conference that aims to explore ways of attaining food sovereignty in Sub-Saharan Africa, Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator highlighted factors and situations that have adversely affected food systems on the continent, including COVID-19 and other ecological disasters such as floods, drought, and the infestation of locusts and fall armyworms. 

“Transforming our food systems is not only a possibility, it is also a necessity,” Fr. Orobator said during the opening session of the International Blended Conference, Tuesday, June 22.

He added, “A strong food system means that all children, women and men will have access to the quantity or quality of food they need, no matter their race, no matter where they live.” 

By bringing together stakeholders and experts in food sovereignty, food systems and climate action space, the Nairobi-based JCAM President said that the conference is meant to “set a course to make real change for the benefit of all people by ... giving voice to everyone in every country.” 

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“We have an opportunity to build back stronger food systems than ever,” he told the participants, adding that those taking part in the conference are expected to “generate creative ideas, strategies and collaborative efforts to build back better in order to transform Sub-Saharan Africa into an inclusive, climate-sensitive and food-secure region.”

Fr. Orobator went on to express concerns about the hunger crisis among the people of God on the world's second-largest and second-most populous continent when “ironically, Sub-Saharan Africa has relatively good climates and arable soils.”

“It is worrisome that in the midst of an abundance of food, millions of Africans still go to bed hungry,” the Nigerian-born Jesuit Priest said. 

Making reference to Pope Francis’ message at the 42nd Conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Fr. Orobator said that “paradoxically, the very people who produce food are the ones who are going hungry.”

“Three quarters of the world’s poor live in rural areas and depend mainly on agriculture for their livelihoods. However, due to lack of access to markets, land ownership, financial resources, infrastructure and technologies, these brothers and sisters of ours are the ones who are most vulnerable to food insecurity,” he further said in reference to the Holy Father’s message.

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Against this backdrop, the Nairobi-based Priest said that members of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) “hold the unshakable conviction that there is no future without food security and climate justice.”

“Food is more than just what we eat. The ways in which we produce, process and consume food touch every aspect of life on the planet. It is the foundation of our cultures, our economies and our relationship with the natural world. Food has the power to bring us together as families, as communities and as nations,” he said. 

Still referencing Pope Francis’ message during the FAO conference, the Priest said that in order to have solutions to challenges around food, “we must above all ensure that food systems are resilient, inclusive, sustainable and able to provide healthy and affordable diets for all.” 

To bridge the gaps in Sub-Saharan Africa’s Food Systems, Fr. Orobator said that the Jesuit Justice and Ecology Network Africa (JENA) plans to work alongside faith and non-faith-based stakeholders within and beyond the continent “to propose a new agricultural development model that supports local biodiversity and ecosystems and the protection of the planet, and prioritizes the poor and the most vulnerable.”