By Charles Ayitey
FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa Abebe Haile-Gabriel explained that building resilience is the solution to increased vulnerability in food supply chains due to coronavirus.
“Covid-19 strikes at the centre of Africa’s unique vulnerability. There are mechanisms to mitigate the pandemic’s impacts on Africa’s most vulnerable people. Building the resilience of vulnerable communities and agricultural systems is the sustainable solution,” he stated.
Already, there has been a national debate over the cost of foodstuff at various market centres amid the Coronavirus pandemic with the Agric Minister, Owusu Afriyie Akoto insisting “cost of food is so far the lowest even in cities like Accra”.
Of the 135 million people globally who are estimated to be experiencing crisis levels of acute food insecurity, more than half live in Africa.
According to recent FAO analysis, in the absence of timely and effective policies, millions of more people around the world are likely to join the ranks of the hungry as a result of the Covid-19-triggered recession.
Haile-Gabriel set out the main challenges facing governments and humanitarian and development partners in supporting vulnerable communities to weather this latest crisis.
The region’s agriculture sector has been hit by three shocks in three years: Fall Armyworm beginning in 2018, Desert Locust swarms that began in 2019, and now Covid-19. At the same time, already-fragile communities are grappling with conflict, drought and floods.
Food preservation capacities in Africa are low, including for fresh fish, and therefore losses have been significant, he said. The lockdown in urban areas meant fish markets closed, so fish value chain actors were negatively affected, and restaurant closures reduced demand.
The self-employed and wage workers in the informal economy are particularly vulnerable to the pandemic’s effects.
They include women, youth and migrant workers and, without effective social protection measures, they disproportionately bear the brunt of the pandemic’s resulting underemployment, unemployment and loss of livelihoods.
Africa also has a heavy reliance on food imports, and border closures and other restrictions have meant people’s access to healthy diets has been reduced, especially in countries already affected by high levels of food insecurity.
Turning to solutions, the Assistant Director-General said FAO’s enhanced advocacy at all levels helped to reopen or keep food and agriculture supply chains alive.
“The concerted actions of FAO, together with other like-minded partners, have contributed towards exempting food supply chains from the lockdowns through defining them as essential services,” he said.
He also said FAO’s advocacy helped keep supply chains open so that measures to control the Desert Locust outbreak in East Africa – “a crisis within a crisis” – could continue.
FAO Africa is focusing not only on short-term measures but medium- and long-term responses as well. Technical assistance for socio-economic assessments, and data and knowledge sharing are supporting evidence-based policy formulation and implementation.
Countries and partners must plan now for a better recovery, to steer Africa towards a more resilient and sustainable path. Otherwise, hard-won gains to reduce hunger and poverty are at risk.