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African countries must strengthen their agricultural, especially food, production

A recent two-day webinar hosted by the African Development Institute, a unit of the African Development Bank (AfDB), saw delegates call on African countries to put in place, and carry out, policies to strengthen their agricultural sectors. This would include agricultural processing, trade and industry.

African countries had to rapidly increase their food reserves, maintain their food supplies and increase their agriculture budgets. This was to avert the possible danger of widespread hunger, caused in part by the current Covid-19 pandemic. “Noting that Covid-19 has fast-tracked the transition to the 4th Industrial Revolution era, 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,” reported the AfDB in its press release.

Agriculture and agribusinesses should be given priority in the national security agendas, urged webinar participants. They called for structural reforms in order to achieve this. One proposed reform was for countries to merge their Ministries of Agriculture, Environment, Health, and Trade and Industry into a single Ministry, described as a “One Health Ministry”.

Many countries in Africa had to import food and Covid-19-caused supply chain disruptions could create dangerous food shortages for them. On top of this, some countries were also facing the threat of locust swarms devastating their food production. And many African countries did not have sufficient strategic food reserves.

The results of these factors could be extreme hunger that could kill many more people in Africa than Covid-19 would, if national lockdowns (to contain the pandemic) were maintained without eliminating the bottlenecks in the food supply chains to the most vulnerable populations. People had been hungry even before Covid-19. Now was the time to declare a food production emergency for the continent, urged the webinar participants.

“Introducing trade or non-trade barriers is not a welcome policy in Africa, especially during the pandemics, the forum noted,” affirmed the AfDB. “It therefore called on Africa to establish green corridors and domestic food systems and keep inter-regional food supply chains open during the pandemic.”

The participants also called for more agricultural research and the setting up of national agricultural productivity accelerator funds. These would serve to assist small farmers and to boost production by small and medium-sized enterprises. Women formed a major part of Africa’s agricultural workforce and technical support and funding (including cash) should be provided to them and other small farmers, to increase agricultural and in particular food production.

The webinar was entitled ‘Building Resilience in Food Systems and Agriculture Value Chains: Agricultural Policy Responses to Covid-19 in Africa’. No fewer than 770 experts from 57 countries participated in it.

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