HUNGER could kill more people in Africa than Covid-19 if the lockdowns persist, participants in a two-day webinar hosted by the African Development Institute (ADI) have said.
Governments must therefore, boost their agriculture budgets to avert a possible hunger pandemic, partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
ADI is the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) focal point for capacity development. Its goal is to lead efforts at building sustainable capacity for development effectiveness in the bank’s regional member countries.
The webinar, titled Building Resilience in Food Systems and Agricultural Value Chains: Agricultural Policy Responses to Covid-19 in Africa, examined the pandemic’s impacts on Africa’s agri-food systems and offered policy recommendations to make them more resilient and efficient.
According to a statement released by the AfDB after the webinar, the dialogue drew 770 experts from 57 countries.
The webinar, organised in partnership with African Association of Agricultural Economists (AAAE), featured speakers from the World Bank, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), universities of agriculture, and agricultural policy research institutions and networks.
The delegates said governments must prioritise the clearing of food supply chain “choke-points” to avert another crisis after Covid-19.
“These factors driving extreme hunger could kill far much more than COVID-19 in Africa if lockdowns persist without clearing the “choke-points” in the food supply chain to the vulnerable,” the meeting observed.
“Without Covid-19, many of our people were already hungry. The pandemic has worsened the situation. Let’s call this an emergency for food production and let this crisis not waste, they noted.”
Some of the policy solutions the attendants offered included promotion of research; enhancing capacity; and expansion of regional agricultural trade, with the African Continental Free Trade Area representing one pathway to resilient regional food supply chains.
“The experts also called for the establishment of national agricultural productivity accelerator funds to support smallholder farmers and small to medium enterprises (SMEs) to ramp up production.
“Women represent a large share of the agriculture workforce, and participants urged the deployment of funding and technical support, including cash transfers to women and smallholder farmers, to accelerate agriculture and food production. They proposed that long-term contracts should be signed with local producers, urban farmers and suppliers to help safeguard supply.”
Africa must urgently develop and implement policies to enhance capacity to compete in the agriculture sector, processing, trade and industry, the AfDB said.
“Noting that Covid-19 has fast-tracked the transition to the 4th Industrial Revolution era, the participants also called on African governments to scale up technology for agriculture production, including private sector-led initiatives, to build resilience and grow the sector to self-sufficiency.”
The participants also urged governments to prioritise agriculture and agribusiness in national security agenda by implementing structural reforms. Reforms proposed include merging ministries of agriculture, health, trade and industry and environment into ‘One Health Ministry’ for greater impact.
The forum also noted that introducing trade or non-trade barriers was not an ideal policy in Africa during pandemics.
Instead, Africa must “establish green corridors and domestic food systems and keep inter-regional food supply chains open”.
“Many African countries must import food to meet domestic demand and so face dangerous food shortages due to Covid-19 related supply-chain disruptions.”
Already, the AfDB said, some countries in East Africa and the Horn were grappling with locust swarms, another food security threat.
“Participants noted that food insecurity had been a problem prior to the pandemic, as many African countries lack adequate strategic food reserves. Other challenges, including climate change, water scarcity, and poorly developed agricultural markets were also discussed.”