African expert says revamping food systems key to pandemic recovery

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The revamping of farming systems in Africa through robust financing, policy reforms and technology adoption is key to realizing food security and improved rural incomes in a post-pandemic era, an expert has said.

Betty Kibaara, director in the Food Initiative at the Rockefeller Foundation, said that Africa’s ability to recover from COVID-19 related shocks hinges on investments in food production systems that are resilient to climatic change, pests, diseases and market volatility.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has turned out to be a food crisis and in Africa, we have more hungry people. Indirectly, it is impacting food systems. The current crisis provides an opportunity to modernize agricultural systems,” Kibaara told Xinhua during a virtual interview in Nairobi, capital of Kenya, Tuesday.

She said that pandemic containment measures including lockdowns and travel restrictions disrupted agricultural value chains, thereby escalating food scarcity and income loss for African smallholder farmers. And low income families in the continent survived on less nutritious food since staples rich in protein, vitamins and minerals were not readily available in local markets.

Africa can draw lessons from the pandemic to hasten reinvigoration of its farming systems through diversification, adoption of drought-tolerant and disease-resistant varieties and irrigation, said Kibaara, who insisted that mechanizing Africa’s agriculture, investing in solar-powered irrigation schemes, renovating open-air markets and installing cold chain facilities are the key to boosting access to nutritious staples among rural communities.

The just-ended African Green Revolution Forum, held in a hybrid format in Nairobi from Sept.7 to 10, came up with an ambitious roadmap to revitalize the continent’s food systems as part of pandemic recovery.

“We require food systems that are regenerative, not too extractive,” said Kibaara, noting that producing food in a more ecologically sensitive method will reduce the burden of diseases besides sustaining health of vital ecosystems.

According to Kibaara, governments should implement continental declaration on allocating at least 10 percent of national budgets to the agriculture sector and invest in innovations to improve productivity at the smallholder level.

While crediting widespread adoption of mobile phones, manual threshers and improved storage technologies for transforming livelihoods of African smallholders through improved market access and reduced post-harvest losses, Kibaara noted that investments in mini-grids and stand-alone solar solutions are the key to boosting irrigated farming besides helping small-scale farmers improve storage of key staples like maize.

She also called for a policy shift and greater accountability to reorganize Africa’s food systems, ensuring they align with the quest for improved health of local communities and their habitats. Enditem

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