Covid-19 pandemic hurts African farmers’ production, income and food security

African governments have been urged to make feasible policy shifts that will allow the agriculture sector and farming businesses to better weather the Covid-19 pandemic.

A survey conducted by the Olam group on the effects of Covid on smallholder farmers’ livelihoods found that more than 50% of respondents reported impacts across income, production, food security and nutrition.

In all, Olam surveyed 3 432 farmers across 19 countries during March.

While addressing the challenges farmers have faced during the pandemic, healthcare issues must also be dealt with urgently, International Finance Corporation leader for agribusiness Samuel Dzotefe said in a webinar arranged by African Business to discuss the survey this week.

“This is not just about the agribusiness, but also includes health related-issues. Because sick people can’t go and work on farms,” Dzotefe said. “Health-related issues in farms must be addressed quickly.

“Infrastructure is very important for the agricultural sector. Where you produce food is different to where food is sold.  We need to boost infrastructure, even the roads we use in the sector.”

Dzotefe said the agricultural sector required affordable energy and electricity for its production.

Olam vice-president for sustainability Julie Greene said lower incomes and reduced production may trap farmers in a downward spiral, because they had less to reinvest in future production.

“Short-term measures like school closures and longstanding issues like undiversified farms or income sources multiply the challenge,” Greene said, adding that her organisation was already investing more in technology for farmers to boost their businesses.

“The pandemic has, however, trapped them  in a downward spiral,” she said.

There was a need to improve farmers’ access to loans, labour and inputs such as ploughs to increase productivity and reduce post-harvest loss, Greene said.

Participants at the webinar agreed that the pandemic might be an opportunity for farmers to find new ways of improving their production patterns. 

“We need to modernise our agriculture. We must give farmers access to information and data that will help them do business better and innovatively,”  said Kwagwiria Koome from the Rockefeller foundation. 

“We have to be creative to find solutions that assist farmers. We can overcome the impacts of the pandemic and get through it.”

Debisi Araba, former director of the Africa Green Revolution Forum, urged African governments to enable fair policies that created room for agribusinesses to thrive, adding that it was important to consult the sector when formulating such policies.

“Let us together push for ICT [information and communications technology] to be spread out in rural areas and ensure that the cost of energy is cheaper and accessible for farmers. We need to build resilience throughout the sector,” Araba said.

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Chris Gilili
Chris Gilili is a climate and environmental journalist at the Mail & Guardian’s environmental unit, covering socioeconomic issues and general news. Previously, he was a fellow at amaBhungane, the centre for investigative journalism.

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