Supporters of the Arab-Africa Trade Bridges (AATB) programme, including the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) and the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), have launched a US$1.5bn package aimed at tackling food scarcity in the region.

The AATB food security programme (FSP) will run for an initial five-year period and is targeted at the 10 member countries of the AATB group, including Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Senegal, Cameroon and Togo.

The programme’s primary aim is to address the immediate food security needs of these nations, though it will broadly focus on four key pillars, namely trade, investment, insurance and infrastructure.

Aymen Kasem, head of the trade development division at the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation (ITFC), says the FSP will provide financing in the short term to African lenders and central banks. For instance, to ensure “some stability” in their forex reserves.

African nations have been heavily affected by a drop in grain imports and difficulties sourcing fertiliser, said Benedict Oramah, president and chairman of Afreximbank’s board of directors, at the launch of the FSP last week. “In large parts of the continent, especially the eastern and southern Africa area, shortages remain.”

In the wake of the Ukraine crisis, which saw a hike in commodities costs and disruption to vital trade routes for food, concerns emerged that the conflict would cause a global food shortage.

In mid-2022, the United Nations and Turkey brokered a deal between Kyiv and Moscow allowing Ukrainian grain to be exported from Black Sea ports, easing food security fears. But with the deal due to expire on July 17 and Russia intimating it may opt against an extension, agricultural trade could once again be thrown into disarray.

According to the African Development Bank, the continent imports over 100 million metric tonnes of cereal every year at a cost of US$75bn, leaving the region heavily exposed to external shocks, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Contributors to the AATB programme also include the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa, ITFC, the Islamic Corporation for the Insurance of Investment and Export Credit, the Islamic Corporation for the Development of the Private Sector and  the OPEC Fund for International Development.

Earlier this year, the Islamic Development Bank extended US$150mn in direct trade finance to 12 countries in Africa struggling with food shortages.