An Online Seminar Exploring the Potential Benefits of Repurposing Agricultural Subsidies in Sub-Saharan Africa’ with the FAO Africa Regional Office

On July 10th, the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, in collaboration with the FAO Africa Regional Office, hosted an online seminar titled ‘Exploring the Potential Benefits of Repurposing Agricultural Subsidies in Sub-Saharan Africa’, drawing on the work of a technical brief which can be read on the website here.

The technical brief recommends that reallocating agriculture sector support should become a key part of the ongoing dialogue on food system transformation and should also be a key consideration as countries deliver on their commitments in the Maputo and Malabo Declarations.

Worldwide, governments spend more than US$817 billion annually to support the agriculture sector. In 2015, sub-Saharan Africa spent an estimated US$680 million on agricultural subsidies.

These subsidies in sub-Saharan Africa are driving greenhouse gas emissions and encourage agricultural practices that degrade natural environments, already under increasing stress. Today’s subsidies also fail to deliver healthy diets for countless millions in Africa. This situation is unsustainable and maintaining the status quo on subsidies is not an option.

The brief uses mathematical modelling to present two scenarios in which subsidies for producers in sub-Saharan Africa are increased in accordance with the Malabo Declaration (either unconditionally or targeted towards foods with beneficial health and environmental characteristics) and two further scenarios in which subsidies are removed (either in Africa, or other OECD / major non-OECD countries). 

The results present a strong case for policymakers to consider repurposing existing subsidies, and even to increase the overall level of subsidies provided towards foods with beneficial health and environmental characteristics, although it also shows that a nuanced approach is needed, one that is informed by the best science, to address trade-offs and avoid any pitfalls or unintended consequences.

The objectives of the seminar included: 

  • increasing understanding of the potential opportunity offered by the realignment of food system public agricultural support.
  • raising awareness of the factors and trade-offs that are needed to realign / repurpose public agricultural support in sub-Saharan Africa.

The event highlighted the opportunities associated with repurposing public support in agriculture by simultaneously addressing malnutrition, environmental degradation, and promoting jobs and economic growth while emphasising its potential as a crucial policy tool to reform food systems.

The seminar concluded with an interactive and open discussion, providing attendees with an invaluable opportunity to explore the applicability and relevance of the repurposing agenda to their respective national circumstances. At the seminar, there was substantial FAO representation from various regions in Africa, including Western, Eastern, and Central Africa. Attendees from countries such as Guinea, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Malawi, Niger, Tanzania, Burundi, The Gambia, the Republic of Congo, and Ghana actively participated, providing valuable insights and perspectives. This diverse representation underscored the inclusive nature of the event and facilitated a comprehensive discussion on the potential benefits of repurposing agricultural subsidies in Sub-Saharan Africa.

We are grateful to all the participants, whose expertise, knowledge, questions and contributions enriched the seminar.