On 11 May in the Aula of Sofia University the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Nigeria - H. E. Мr. Geoffrey Onyeama,

delivered a public lecture on "Food Security and Nutrition in Africa in the Current Global Context". It is part of a series of events dedicated to Africa Day/2022 in Sofia. The lecture was attended by the Vice-Rector of Sofia University prof. Vasil Marinov, the doyen of the diplomatic corps in Bulgaria H. E. Dr. Ahmed Al Madbuh, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the State of Palestine to the Republic of Bulgaria, the H. E. Mrs. Zakia El Midaoui, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Kingdom of Morocco to the Republic of Bulgaria, the Ambassador of Bulgaria to Nigeria H. E. Мr. Yanko Yordanov, the Ambassador of Nigeria in Bulgaria H. E. Mrs. Safia Ahmad Nuhu, and the other ambassadors of African countries accredited in our country (Algeria, Egypt, Libya, South Africa), lecturers and students.

The event was opened by H. E. Ms. Zakia El Midaoui, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Kingdom of Morocco to the Republic of Bulgaria and Dean of the Group of African Ambassadors to Bulgaria. She said that she was glad to see so many people in the Sofia University Aula and thanked all those from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Sofia University who helped with the organization.

Her Excellency gave a brief introduction to the hunger problem in Africa and pointed out that the issue is important for everyone. Many people are still chronically undernourished, meaning that the UN's goal of zero hunger is still a long way off. She noted that the pandemic caused by Covid-19 has exacerbated the problem and the war in Ukraine is also expected to have a negative impact in this direction.

The doyen of the diplomatic corps in our country, H. E. Dr. Ahmed Al Madbuh, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the State of Palestine to the Republic of Bulgaria addressed the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Nigeria and the attendees of his lecture.

Before his exposé, H. E. Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama said he was impressed by the nature and the sights of Bulgaria, which he was visiting for the first time. He expressed his joy at the good diplomatic relations between our two countries.

Here is the lecture itself:

Nutrition and Food Security in Africa: Strengthening Food Systems, Health and Social Protection for Sustainable Development

In May 1963, a great milestone was achieved for Africa, when 32 Heads of independent African States met in Addis Ababa Ethiopia to sign the Charter creating Africa's first post-independence continental institution, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which culminated in the African Union (AU). The creation of the OAU was a landmark achievement for the African Continent, demonstrating its determination to move forward, as a continent that was united, free, and in control of its destiny. The Organization based its values on notions of freedom, equality, justice, and dignity.

Hence, the 25th of May each year is designated as Africa Day, and the entire month of May is usually celebrated as Africa Month, to celebrate the creation of the OAU/AU. Africa Month is celebrated through a variety of ways showcasing Africa, including displaying our historical inheritance, architecture, literature, language, food, practices, and culture; creative expressions such as music and performances, seminars, conferences, etc. The occasion is celebrated not only by countries in Africa, or by Africans, but across the globe, showing solidarity and cooperation for African peoples. Advancing the African agenda and strengthening ties between Nigeria and its friends has remained a key feature of celebrating Africa Day for Nigeria. It is indeed a great honour and pleasure for us to celebrate the first Africa Day event for 2022 in Bulgaria, with the Bulgarian people reinforcing our long-term friendship and solidarity.

Africa Day is also a time for us as Africans to reflect; to reflect on Africa's achievements, acknowledge its contributions to the world, reflect upon its realities and challenges, explore its opportunities and prospects, and seek ways to promote the African agenda that embraces peace and stability; democracy, unity, prosperity, and sustainable growth and development -a development that takes care of the present and future generations of Africa.  

Every year it is marked with a theme adopted by the AU, reflecting on the focal priority for Africa for that year. Last year when the African Union designated the theme of Africa Day 2022 on Nutrition and Food Security for Africa, we did not know how much more relevant the topic will be at the time of celebrating Africa Day. The devastating effect of COVID 19 during the last two years on world economies; coupled with the impact of the conflict in Ukraine on food security and food systems; further aggravated by climatic shocks and the impact of climate change on our environment, threatening our livelihoods and food systems, make it all the more important a topic of discussion for Africa Day. 

However, even as we discuss these challenges, we also explore the prospect and opportunities they present for us as humans to work together in solidarity and mutual support to address these crises. Dialogue remains a key element in finding solutions to these overarching global issues.

The 2030 Agenda for sustainable development and its wide array of goals is very articulate in terms of its commitment to eradicating poverty; promoting food security, ensuring good health and well-being for all, providing clean, sustainable water and sanitation, preserving life on land and sea, conserving marine resources, as well as preserving the environment amongst others. In particular, this year's Africa Day theme is hinged upon SDG Goals 1, 2, and 3 as the more pertinent SDGs for Africa's development.

SDG Goal 1 is set to:

     - End poverty in all its forms everywhere and increase prosperity

SDG Goal 2 is set to:

     - Achieve food security,
     - Improve agriculture and
     - End hunger

SDG Goal 3 is set to:

     - Ensure good health and promote wellbeing for all, at all ages

The African Union Agenda 2063, which is the blueprint for Africa's transformative development reiterates all the 17 SDGs and contextualized them to the development issues that are more pertinent for Africa -of which food security factors in as a major component. The global health crisis of COVID 19 greatly exposed the economic vulnerability of African countries as well as the weaknesses of health and food systems. It has thus informed the decision to adopt the theme for this year's Africa day, also reflecting the commitment made by the African Heads of state, to achieve 'a human capital of well-nourished citizens, in good health'. In this respect, many African countries have committed to improving their agricultural sector, among which is Nigeria.

Several policies and initiatives have been implemented by President Muhammadu Buhari's government since 2015 to assist us to attain sustainable food systems and food security. The Food Security Council was established in 2018 by President Muhammadu Buhari. The objectives of the Council, which is chaired by the President, include developing sustainable solutions to conflicts between farmers and herders; mitigating the effects of climate change and desertification on farmlands, and agricultural research and extension institutions. The Council also monitors regional and global policies and trends that affect food security in Nigeria.

Launched in 2015, the Anchor Borrowers' Programme (ABP) has assisted over 4.8 million farmers in increasing the output of 23 agricultural commodities, including maize, rice, oil palm, cocoa, cotton, cassava, tomato, and cattle. The programme was developed to establish economic relationships between smallholder farmers and enterprises engaged in the production and processing of essential agricultural products.

To help support the domestic blending of NPK fertiliser, and ensure the supply of discounted phosphate to Nigeria, the Presidential Fertilizer Initiative (PFI) was launched in 2016 as the result of a partnership between the governments of Nigeria and Morocco and implemented in Nigeria as a Public-Private Partnership led by the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority and the Fertilizer Producers and Suppliers Association of Nigeria. There also is the Presidential Economic Diversification Initiative (PEDI), which supports the revitalisation of dormant industries, particularly in agriculture, by facilitating new investments, reducing regulatory bottlenecks, and facilitating credit access.

Nigeria leverages numerous international initiatives aimed at helping African countries, realise their enormous agricultural potential, including the African Development Bank's Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) programme; Nigeria – Africa Trade And Investment Promotion Programme (NATIPP), which is  jointly supported by the African Export-Import Bank, the Nigerian Export-Import Bank, and the Nigerian Export Promotion Council; as well as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which aims to reduce tariffs among its members and encompasses policy areas such as trade facilitation and services

We have made great progress in terms of agricultural commodity production, mechanised agriculture, enhanced climate-resilient systems, and so on. Nigeria was Africa's largest producer of rice in 2021, with 5 million metric tonnes of rice and 11.6 million tonnes of corn, among other things. This may be greatly enhanced.

As part of this drive for food security and nutrition, the government is increasingly looking for new avenues that provide innovative solutions and options for sustainable agriculture. This can be accomplished through collaboration with our partners and friends around the world to investigate additional means of improvement in machinery, seeds, fertiliser, and research.

Nigeria and Bulgaria have had a diplomatic relationship for over fifty years, primarily in the education and defence sectors. We would like to expand this collaboration, particularly in agriculture, which is an important sector for the current administration. Nigeria is determined to increase agricultural investment to ensure food security for its rapidly-growing population.

I thank you very much for your audience, and Happy Africa day, everyone.

Minister Geoffrey Onyema's lecture was part of the series of events and online seminars dedicated to Africa Day on May 25, organised by the Department of African Studies. The Days of Africa programme has two highlights - the celebration of Africa Day and the socio-cultural diversity of the continent and the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Bulgaria and South Africa.

Photos: Press office of Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski"