Twenty seven African countries plan to set up a digital system that will provide real time estimates on availability of food stocks in the region.
Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) are spearheading a plan to design a digital Regional Food Balance Sheet (RFBS) that uses data from a variety of public and private sources to develop the system.
Once fully developed and operational, the RFBS is expected to drive data-driven decisions on production support, trade policy, and stock management by governments, business decision-making and investment by the private sector.
Six countries are currently involved in the pilot phase. These are Kenya, Uganda, Zambia Rwanda, Malawi, and Tanzania.
The reasons behind the innovation include the lack of reliable, timely, and accurate data for food and nutrition security related decision-making in many Sub Sahara Africa countries. This, the experts say, was made glaring by the disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
In recognition of these data gaps and needs, Comesa Council of Ministers, in 2020 directed its Secretariat, to implement a Comesa-wide RFBS initiative.
This led to a collaborative and multi-stakeholder engagement, which has Comesa as the convener and eventual host of the platform, with support from a range of analytical and technology partners.
They include Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development, NASA Harvest/UMD, Bureau for Food and Agriculture Policy and Tetra Tech.
Development partners supporting the project are the UK government, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, and the United States Agency for Internal Development (USAID).
Comesa and Agra have already conducted a physical demonstration of the RFBS platform for review by representatives from the six pilot countries, drawn from ministries responsible for agriculture, food security, and national statistics agencies.
Comesa Assistant Secretary General, Kipyego Cheluget said gaps in food system data had made it challenging to understand who were food insecure, where they lived and the level of food insecurity they were experiencing.
“These data gaps left many countries unable to respond effectively to the food needs of their citizens during this Covid-19 pandemic,” said Dr Cheluget.
“Several stakeholders, including, governments, academic institutions, private sector, and humanitarian agencies, collect data, but rarely are these data shared or consolidated into one central database that can be used to inform decision-making by the stakeholders,” he added.
In his remarks, AGRA Vice President, Apollos Nwafor described the RFBS as a suitable tool for estimating the overall shortages and surpluses in the region as well as developing projections of future food supply and demand needs which help in setting targets for agricultural production and trade.
Data for the RFBS will be sourced from historic records from national governments and validated by the Food and Agricultural Organisation, current season estimates from private and public data partners throughout East and Southern Africa, and both real-time and future estimates which use advanced analytics from satellite imagery and other technologies.