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Opinions of Wednesday, 22 April 2020


Coronavirus shouldn’t lead to food crisis in Africa – AGRA Boss


As health workers across the globe battle to slow down spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, all measures must be taken to ensure that people have food now, in the recovery period, and beyond to ensure that the pandemic will not spawn food crises which affect poor people the most in both rural and urban areas, Dr. Agnes Kalibata, President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), has said.

She stressed the need for African countries to protect the interests and wellbeing of the most vulnerable among the population by ensuring farmers, especially small-scale ones, continue to do their work without major obstructions, saying: “Africa’s smallholders produce 80 percent of the food we eat. It therefore goes without saying that if they can’t farm because of COVID-19, Africa will inevitably face a food crisis.

“In the long-term, this pandemic underscores the need for Africa to focus on agriculture transformation as its surest path to inclusive economic growth to build the resilience of its population. Our fragility with regard to food access is exacerbated by the fact that we import significant amounts of food, we depend on smallholder-led and rain-fed agriculture, and we are in the midst of already-existing shocks from climate change and locust invasions. As countries grapple with COVID-19, African countries must maintain laser focus on the sufficiency of their food production. Together with our partners, we will carry on rolling out innovative ways and building partnerships to transform,” she said.

In a press statement copied to B&FT, Dr. Kalibata said each of the 14 countries that AGRA partners with has imposed some degree of restrictions to protect their populations from spread of the virus. This situation, she acknowledged, is an important protective step, but “we also need to consider the very real danger that the COVID-19 pandemic will leave in its wake a food security crisis which could affect the political, social and economic health of African countries”.

Already, over 250 million people in Africa are without food. These vulnerable populations will suffer more from both short- and long-term effects of the pandemic. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), Africa’s GDP growth is expected to drop from 3.2% to 1.8% – which will likely increase the number of people without food, she added.

Dr. Kalibata however acknowledged some initiatives by various countries which must be sustained and adopted by others to promote food safety across the continent. “There are very good lessons coming from across Africa and beyond, and we will bring these to our countries as we go.

For example, the Indian government has exempted agriculture and allied activities from the ongoing lockdown. Closer to home, we commend efforts by the governments of Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Ghana and Ethiopia that are developing or already have guidelines to keep agricultural value chains alive even as they abide by public health guidelines.

“The government of Ethiopia, for example, is finding ways to get inputs to farmers at lower prices than usual to ensure that all farmers have access to the right inputs. In Ghana, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture has secured inputs, seed and fertiliser for farmers through the government flagship Planting for Food and Jobs programme.

“Government is also supporting rice millers with working capital so they can continue purchasing rice from farmers. In Kenya, government will stock up cereals and pulses for use to mitigate the COVID-19 food security challenges. Additionally, the Village Based Advisors (VBAs) in the country have come up with creative ways of delivering government-subsided inputs to farmers while educating them on COVID-19 safety guidelines.”

In all these, leadership and coordinated actions are required at global, national and local levels to find designs for food systems which are responsive to and supportive of public health measures, she added.