The covid-19 pandemic’s injurious impact on African economies will clog income streams and induce job losses and subsequently affect the livelihoods of many in the continent, said the minister of the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development (DALRRD), Thoko Didiza.
While the world rushes to find a vaccine for this fatal virus, this is the time for Africa to “future proof” African agriculture to make it more resilient and sustainable, declared Didiza this week in a webinar hosted by African Union (AU) on strategies to reimagine agriculture.
She said the coronavirus crisis and the lockdown measures the South African government imposed to stop its spread highlighted the role of produce traders.
“We had to look at the linkage between producers and traders. Initially when we imposed the lockdown the food traders in particular were severely affected, and so were the communities who actually buy from them. So, we had to revise the strategy in the middle of the alert level five lockdown and allow all the traders to operate with relevant health protocols.”
She said that even during that period of lockdown the ministers of agriculture of countries in the region agreed to ensure that during the pandemic the commitment to the African Continental Free Trade agreement was not lost. “However, we will have to observe how that will happen within an environment where the health protocols are not compromised,” she said.
According to Didiza even though the agricultural industry of South Africa was considered an essential service and therefore exempted from the “hard lockdown”, it spotlighted some of the fault lines within our agricultural system.
“In our own country we have been engaging with the industry to look at reimagining agriculture now and in the future given the disruptions, but also given our legacy in the agriculture sector so that we can find a common vision. Clearly one of the things that covid-19 has shown is the interconnectedness within the sector and also across the other sectors of the economy,” she said
Didiza said DALRRD is working on an agricultural “master plan” to come up with solutions that will mitigate the industry’s financial, water, reform and research issues.
From health crisis to food crisis
Dr Abebe Haile Gabriel of the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said Africa was in crisis before covid-19. He said about 239 million people were food insecure, 65 million people had insufficient food security systems and about 430 million people lived in poverty.
According to Gabriel, Africa’s social protection and safety programmes are weak, hence production and livelihood systems are not adequately protected against the covid-19 shocks.
He explained that their mission as the FAO with collaborative partners is to support the efforts made by African countries to keep agriculture supply chains alive.
“We need to prevent the health crisis from translating into a food crisis. We want to do this in an integrated manner,” he said.
The climate change challenge
Commissioner for rural economy and agriculture of the African Union Commission, Josefa Sacko, said climate change remains a crucial challenge that burdens the development of agriculture.
According to a 2007 report by the intergovernmental panel on climate change the African continent is the most defenceless continent to the ravages of climate change, said Sacko. She explained that this is due to poor infrastructure, poverty, and meagre governance.
Sacko said that in 2019 cyclone Idai swept through Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe causing loss of human life, destroying farms and damaging economies. She said southern Africa is also inconvenienced by animal disease outbreaks and the climatic el niño effect, which causes unpredictable weather patterns.
Overall climate change instigates a collection of uncontrollable disruptions on the continent, she said.
Moving closer to the private sector
A spokesperson representing the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD), Dr Augustin Wambo Yamdjeu, stated that the coronavirus magnified the areas in the continent that needed drastic improvements.
According to Yamdjev the agriculture sector needs transformation, and this can’t be executed without joint participation of the government and the private sector.
“We are beginning to see that private sector conversation is no longer a by–the–way issue. It has now become something that is very much considered in the main scheme of things. More importantly in this particular time we can see that the governments themselves are able to acknowledge and also do what it takes to facilitate government or private sector investment to flow more into the sector.”
“With the current situation, I think more effort will be needed. We will have to discuss how we structure further dialogue between the government and the people who are willing to invest their resources in the strategic value chain, so we don’t look at national investment plans as something that is only owned by the government. The government should be seen as a facilitator for the farmers and the investors,” he said.