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Africa’s Path to Energy and Food Resilience

“Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Nowhere are Winston Churchill’s famous words more appropriate than in Africa. Across the continent, Africa is facing yet another famine, yet another cost-of-living crisis, yet another shortage of vital foods and fuel. And we have taken far too few steps along the path to resolving these issues for future generations.

The last week has seen visits by both U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, with the explicit aim of exploring how the United States can help African countries deal with the food and energy crisis that has hit the continent.

Basic food and energy commodities are now scarce and expensive, affecting more than 346 million people across the continent. Persistent drought, unprecedented animal losses, reduced crop production, local and regional conflicts, and COVID-19 aftershocks had already created acute fuel and food insecurity conditions across the continent.

This has now been exacerbated by surging food and fuel prices caused by the war in Ukraine. Inflation rose to 7.1 percent in May, the highest since February 2020.

Africa, a land of such fertile opportunity, depends on food imports. This cannot and must not continue. There is now an overwhelming need for greater food and fuel provision and production systems. We must act proactively to build these to secure our future.

Sustainable, long-term, and self-sufficient solutions to this commodities crisis must be implemented rapidly, otherwise, even more people will face alarming levels of hunger and poverty.

Addressing the surge in fuel prices across Africa while reducing the cost of food requires a concerted effort between governments, non-governmental organisations, financial institutions, private donors, and local actors.

Each country has agency over its own future, especially when it comes to building energy and food resilience. However, it is evident that African nations are stronger when working together. It is up to our governments and business leaders to identify, develop, and ultimately secure partners that have sufficient expertise and knowledge in implementing sustainable commodities production and management solutions.

Following centuries of exploitation, and decades of relying on unequal foreign aid and food imports, Africa must assert its right to autonomy and decide how to build sustainable food and fuel systems that suit its own needs, and do not prioritise the export of raw materials – and their economic value – abroad.

This starts with prioritising local food and fuel production, distribution, and consumption. Direct foreign investments in local African companies with local leadership can assist in achieving these goals. Local enterprises have a better understanding of the resources available, market, clientele, supply, and production systems, but often need financial support to develop and expand their activities.

This is where foreign financing can intervene proactively and constructively. The right partners and the right approach can cause a dramatic improvement in our food and agricultural programmes, providing expertise, knowledge, and a long-term outlook that breeds confidence in our futures.

Some foreign companies have recognised this need for substantial and sustainable investments to assist Africa to develop its own commodities market. A case in point is Paramount Energy & Commodities who invested in Carrinho Group, a local food distributor in Angola, as part of its ‘Empowering Africa’ initiative. Paramount’s $500 million investment in the construction of a large food processing plant produced thousands of jobs in the community, generated wealth locally, and contributed to the reduction of basic food prices. Similarly, Paramount established a partnership with Harvest Group for the supply of agricultural commodities at affordable prices to Angola, Egypt, Turkey, and several other countries. Paramount’s investments were such a success that the company is now looking to help develop other local businesses across the continent.

Accessing sufficient funds is however not enough for Africa to achieve energy and food self-sufficiency, resilience, and adaptability. Confronting the inequalities perpetuated in the local, regional and global supply chains for both energy and agriculture is as important.

Africa must identify the strategic challenges of developing its energy and food resilience and address them on its own terms. This includes halting the production of crops and natural resources designed solely for export. We must prioritise the needs of small and medium enterprises to develop capacity for local production instead.

For Africa to achieve its energy and food independence, it is vital to develop simple and appropriate solutions that are adapted to the climate and resources available and that integrate the knowledge and experience African businesses have.

Given the crises facing the continent, Africa should not be expected to pick sides in global politics. We must remain free to choose our trading, financial, and political partners without being expected to bow to the pressure of foreign powers.

Today, the main priority for African society is to have access to sufficient fuel and food provisions so the ongoing crisis that is wreaking havoc on the continent can be put to an end. It is up to Africa, its governments, its businesses, and its people to decide on the best partners to achieve this goal. Only then will we escape the trap of repeating history again.