COVID-19 will continue to severely impact Africas Agricultural and Economic Landscape; Countries urged to put in place policies that will promote growth

By Taigu Muchiri

University leaders from the United States and Africa came together to discuss the extent to which COVID-19 has negatively impacted global, continental, national, and individual trends during the fourth series of the Alliance for African Partnership (AAP) public dialogue. The panelists included Dr. Mame Samba Mbaye, Head of the Plant Biology Department, Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar (UCAD), Dr. David Tschirley, Co-Director, Food Security Group, and Director, Feed the Future Innovation Lab, Michigan State University, Godfrey Bahiigwa, Director, Department of Rural Economy and Agriculture, African Union Commission and Prof. Agnes Mwangwela, Dean and Acting Principal of Bunda Campus, Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR).

Global economic meltdown

The impact of COVID-19 continues to be felt across the globe as the death toll rises and countries experience an economic meltdown. The International Monetary Fund has projected the global growth will fall to -3 percent in 2020 resulting from the health and economic crisis brought by COVID-19 and predicted to be worse than the 2008 global financial crisis. This twin crisis disproportionately affects the informal economy that employs over 2 billion individuals, 93 percent of them in developing and emerging economies. In Africa, the sector consists of over 85 percent of the labor market and is a great source of employment for women (58.5 percent). In Kenya, it has employed 15 million workers, created nine out of ten new jobs, and absorbed over 60 percent of women. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), 94 percent of the workforce across the globe were experiencing closures by the end of May which have led to massive job losses. In the US alone, job losses are on the rise with over 44 million people applying for unemployment benefits by end of May. In Kenya, a study conducted in April by the Network of Impact Evaluation Researchers in Africa (NIERA) shows that the overall average weekly income has decreased by 51.2 percent (pre-crisis Kshs. 2,380 to Kshs. 1,220 during the crisis) in the informal sector. The study further shows that workers in the Kenyan informal economy have suffered a substantial loss of income thirty days after the first COVID-19 case was announced in Kenya. The pandemic has also affected trade as more and more countries continue to restrict movement across borders. The specialized healthcare agency of the African Union (AU) Commission indicates that African countries have been severely affected by the pandemic and have led to the closure of borders in 43 African countries and more countries are expected to close their borders as the infections continue to rise.

Threats to food security

Food security during this period has been severely affected as a result of global closures, cessation of movement orders, and curfews implemented to reduce the spread of COVID-19. This is especially the case in Sub Saharan Africa which is very food insecure and most people are already facing food shortages. Prof. Agnes Mwangwela highlighted that 45 million people in Eastern and Southern Africa are at risk of experiencing food deficit in 2020 and 2021. “The global shutdown has affected small traders, businesses, and unskilled workers who have lost their source of income. Border closures have affected food imports and processing aids, the export of commodities, and the importation of agricultural inputs. Limited operations of markets have led to low prices of agricultural produce in rural markets and in some areas led to a poor harvest,” she said.

A regional response to the crisis

Godfrey Bahiigwa said that the AU Commission is leading efforts to respond to the pandemic by mobilizing member states, the eight regional economic communities, and development partners to put together systematic and coordinated efforts towards the pandemic to build resilient food systems in Africa. Some of these measures include short term interventions for social protections, supporting farmers to plant, protecting domestic markets by keeping them open during this period, leverage on intra-Africa regional trade especially the newly created Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) and to ensure supply of agricultural farm inputs to support small-scale farmers. He noted with great concern that Africa has been facing severe food security challenges since 2018 adding that, “the invasion of Fall armyworms in 2018 and the locust invasion in 2019 and 2020 which started in the Horn Africa and has now spread to West Africa that has severely affected food production in Africa and if these issues are not addressed, the continent risks loss of lives due to hunger.” He further urged African governments to prioritize mitigation measures by providing stimulus packages especially to vulnerable groups and implement policies that will focus on agricultural outputs to boost economic growth. To do so, they need to allocate sufficient budget to the agriculture sector to meet this goal. Studies show that the allocations are still below the 2003 African Union’s Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security, which requires African states to allocate 10 percent of their annual budgets to agriculture to ease poverty.

Opportunities that lie ahead

Dr. David Tschirley noted that the virus is starting to spread to rural areas in developing countries and that these cases are on the rise. The majority of the agriculture supply chain and especially the critical part of planting and harvesting is localized in rural areas. “The growing infections will severely impact the transmission, mobility and mortality, behavioral trends such as government actions (shutdown and curfews) and impact spending power and livelihoods,” but this could prove to be an advantage by “making a case for investment in the retail and wholesale market to strengthen systems and infrastructure,” he said. In addition, MSU has put in place a group for food security to inform policy to strengthen systems, especially during this period. The Food Security Group believes that good food and nutrition policy, informed by solid empirical evidence that is generated jointly with local partners, can transform economies and lives in low-income countries.

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