COVID-19: Now is the time for Africa to grow food

Food markets will face many more months of uncertainty due to COVID-19, but the agriculture food sector is likely to show more resilience to the pandemic crisis than other sectors. The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the risks of unhealthy diets and the extreme fragility of the global food system.

The Food and Agricultural Organization’s, Food Price Index (FFPI) averaged 93.2 points in June 2020, some 2.2 points (2.4 percent) higher than in May, representing the first month-on-month increase since the beginning of the year. Amid market uncertainties posed by COVID-19, the prices of vegetable oils, sugar and dairy products rebounded to multi-month highs following sharp declines registered in May, while in cereals and meat markets, most prices remained under downward pressure.

The COVID-19 pandemic should spur us to redefine how we feed humanity. The African countries now has a unique opportunity to adopt long-term measures to promote healthier diets, encourage farmers to produce a wider range of food, and strengthen collaboration among the public-health, food, and agriculture sectors. A new approach in agricultural research can play a vital role in transforming food systems and making them more sustainable and resilient.

The need for change is clear. For starters, unhealthy diets are one of the leading risk factors related to COVID-19 fatalities. The Coronavirus disproportionately affects people who are overweight, diabetic, or suffer from cardiovascular disease – all of which are linked to poor diets. The economic reconstruction that will follow the pandemic is an opportunity to provide better nutrition and health for all.

This Covid-19 crisis has also exposed the extreme fragility of the global food system. Social-distancing and lockdown measures to curb the virus’s spread have significantly reduced people’s incomes and thus global food demand.

GDP From Agriculture in South Africa increased in the first quarter of 2020. South Africa needs to invest in agriculture and agroprocessing to reduce basic imports such as Maize, Wheat and Chicken. Zambia has a huge potential for Maize, wheat and livestock market to feed in the food security challenges. GDP From Agriculture in Zambia increased in the fourth quarter of 2019.

The 2007 Botswana Livestock and Meat Industries Act, to provide for the slaughter of domestic livestock, farmed game, wild game and poultry for human consumption and other livestock products has assisted in boosting the economy and more investment are required to expand the agriculture and agroprocessing industry at Botswana. Agriculture in Namibia contributes around 5.1% of the GDP of which 70 % represents the output of the livestock sub – sector.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that at least 14.4 million people in the 101 net food-importing countries could become undernourished as a result of the economic crisis triggered by COVID-19. In an extreme scenario – a reduction of ten percentage points in global real GDP growth in 2020 – that total rises to 80.3 million.

In the short term, therefore, governments must not only provide financial support to individuals and firms affected by the pandemic, but also act to prevent a food crisis. Longer-term measures must include promoting healthier eating. Three crops – rice, maize, and wheat – provide more than 50% of the calories that humans gain from plants. People in general, but mainly the poorest, do not consume

enough nutrient-rich food such as fruits, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. And about 11 million people die each year as a result of unhealthy diets.

But the race to produce and deliver cheap calories has caused collateral damage, mainly in terms of nutrition and local development. Because the “calories race” relies on value chains that focus on a few basic products from a limited number of countries, many other countries have become net food importers. The pandemic has highlighted their excessive and fragile dependence on a few producers located thousands of miles away and underscored the need for shorter and more diverse value chains.

Policymakers must also foster regenerative production systems that promote biodiversity and improve soil and water quality, which would contribute significantly to climate-change adaptation.

The pandemic has underscored the urgent need to transform agriculture. And the economic reconstruction that will follow it represents a perfect opportunity to provide better nutrition and health for all. A government led initiative to finance small business farmers and provide water, seeds and training for farmers can reduce domestic food security challenges and reduce tons of agricultural imports.

Miyelani Mkhabela is an Executive Director at Antswisa Transaction Advisory Services.

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