By Esther Nakkazi
Even as the COVID 19 pandemic ravages on, governments, seed companies, and regional bodies in Africa should continue to promote appropriate agricultural technologies and innovations that will help cushion smallholder farmers and agri-businesses.
African governments can enable this by creating an enabling policy environment for commercialization, supporting smart agro-input subsidy programs without distorting market dynamics, and by promoting digital agriculture solutions amidst the pandemic, says Dr. Denis Kyetere, Executive Director of African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF).
He was speaking at a webinar hosted by AATF on 27 July 2020, themed, “Promotion of technologies and innovations for agri-business resilience in Africa in the wake of COVID-19. “
Agricultural experts and government representatives attending the webinar briefed attendees on efforts to ensure food security during the pandemic.
Kenya developed measures and strategies to ensure food was available, accessible, and affordable to the general population when the first case of COVID-19 was reported in March 2020. This was done by ensuring the maintenance of food production, processing, and marketing.
“We developed protocols for agricultural value chains to continue with business to avoid a food crisis,” said Prof. Hamadi Boga, the Principal Secretary, State Department for Agricultural Research in the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Kenya.
The African Development Bank (AfDB) has unveiled a Roadmap to assist African countries in tackling the food and nutrition security threat posed by COVID-19 pandemic through immediate long term interventions under the Feed Africa Initiative. AfDB is also working with African governments to offer support to vulnerable communities during the pandemic.
“Ensuring food security for Africans in all situations is at the core of the Bank’s Feed Africa Strategy. Our institution will coordinate its efforts with different stakeholders across the continent to effectively answer the needs of regional member countries,” said Dr. Martin Fregene, the Director of Agriculture and Agro-Industry at the AfDB.
The Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) Maize Compact Project that aims at increasing uptake and use of proven high-yielding climate-smart maize technologies by smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, is one of the Bank’s initiatives being implemented by AATF.
Dr. Emmanuel Okogbenin, the Director of Programme Development and Commercialisation at AATF, noted that agri-businesses in Africa face unique challenges during the pandemic including high post-harvest losses, poor infrastructure, and limited access to agricultural finance and insurance.
“Agribusinesses in Africa are vulnerable to varied shocks and this has been further compounded by other challenges brought about by restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic including limited access to inputs, disrupted food production, shortage of labor and closed borders,” said Dr. Okogbenin.
Mr. Justin Rakotoarisaona, Secretary-General of the African Seed Trade Association noted that restriction in movement of human and seed, reduction in labor availability, and increase in cost for seed production are some of the challenges brought about by COVID-19 in the seed sector.
Mr. Stephen Muchiri, the Chief Executive Officer of East Africa Farmers Federation pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of disruption in production at the farmers’ level.
Dr. Okogbenin said that agri-business should be viewed as an economic pathway for Africa where agriculture contributes substantially and significantly among other sectors to the total Gross Domestic Product in most countries in the continent, adding that ‘there is need to create an environment that will enable investment and adoption of best practices that are profitable in agribusiness and to rapidly modernize farming to integrate commercially successful innovative technologies for agribusiness resilience in the wake of COVID-19.’
Prof. Ruth Oniang’o, Founder of Rural Outreach and winner of Africa Food Prize 2017 said food systems in the continent might emerge stronger post-COVID-19 subject to the adoption of sound policies and innovations.
Muchiri noted that they are working closely with farmers to help them cope with the crisis by utilizing e-platforms such as the e-granary where they link farmers to access agricultural inputs.