COVID-19 shouldn’t lead to food crisis in Africa, AGRA President warns

Dr Agnes Kalibata
Dr Agnes Kalibata

The President of Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Dr Agnes Kalibata has cautioned that the outbreak of COVID-19 shouldn’t lead to food crisis in Africa.

Dr Kalibata said though the movement restriction imposed in some African countries is a step towards curbing the spread of the disease, the implication on food production should also be considered.

She said already 250 million people in Africa are without food, and these set of people would suffer from both the long and short-term effect of the pandemic.

Dr Kalibata in an article made available to journalists, said “each of the 14 countries that AGRA partners with, has imposed some degree of restrictions to protect the populations from the spread of the virus.

“This is clearly 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 that 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 the short- and long-term effects of the pandemic”.

She said as efforts were being made to slow the spread of the disease, there is a need to make efforts to ensure people have food, else, food crisis is imminent.

“As health workers battle to slow down the spread of the disease, all measures must be taken to ensure that people have food now, in the recovery period and beyond. If this is not done, COVID-19 will result in a food crisis that will affect poor people the most, in both rural and urban areas. It is obvious that we can protect the interests and well-being of the most vulnerable among us by ensuring farmers continue to do their work”, she noted.

“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 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 fertilizer, for farmers through the government flagship Planting for Food and Jobs program.

“The government is also supporting rice millers with working capital so they can continue purchasing rice from farmers. In Kenya, the government will stock up cereals and pulses for use to mitigate 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”, she added.

Also, the Country Representative of AGRA, Dr Kehinde Makinde commended the Nigerian government for lifting the ban on the movement of fertiliser across the country as part of measures to continue food production during the lockdown period.

In the same line, the National Coordinator, AGRA Project on Strengthening Fertilizer Systems in Nigeria and also the Registrar Nigeria Institute of Soil Science, Professor Victor Chude commended President Muhammadu Buhari for the directive to release 70,000 Metric Tons of food as palliative during the lockdown period.

Professor Chude, however, recommended that the government should ensure a speedy rollout of farm inputs to farmers in order to allow timely planting as the rainy season is setting in.

Meanwhile, it was gathered that President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the restocking of silos, while the minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Alhaji Sabo Nanono said the government would accelerate food production through various programs.

Furthermore, Dr Kalibata said AGRA was willing to partner governments to support farmers especially women and youths to plant, harvest, transport and sell their food without endangering anyone.

“Our collective duty now is to ensure that efforts like these are scaled up across the continent. At AGRA, we are committed to working with our partners and governments to support farmers, most of whom are women and youth; to plant, harvest, transport, and sell food without endangering their safety and that of others.

“We will do this by working with governments to ensure that village-based agro-dealers shops stay open to enable farmers access inputs at affordable prices.

“We are not being prescriptive but believe that we all have to do what it takes to support the farmers; doing nothing and wishing this pandemic away is not an option.

“In addition to our partner governments, we recognize the hundreds of implementing partners, we work with. We want to assure them that we remain fully committed to our partnership and are prepared to be as flexible and supportive as possible in how they organise their operations to deal with the pandemic while continuing to deliver”, she said.

“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 regards 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.

“In all these, leadership and coordinated action are required at global, national and local levels to find solutions for food systems that are responsive to and supportive of public health measures”, the AGRA President added.

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