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African countries urged to prioritise agriculture and agribusiness

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Boost annual budgets on agriculture production, expand food reserves as Covid-19 worsens food scarcity, urges ADI seminar

AFRICAN countries need to urgently expand food reserves, keep food supply flowing, and boost their agriculture budgets to avert a possible hunger pandemic, partly caused by the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, delegates at a two-day webinar hosted by the African Development Institute (ADI) heard this week.

“Africa must now, more than ever, develop and implement policies to enhance capacity to compete in the agriculture sector, processing, and trade and industry, the speakers (during the webinar) said in a clarion call for action,” according to a statement issued by the African Development Bank (AfDB) following the event.

Noting that Covid-19 had 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.

The webinar, titled Building Resilience in Food Systems and Agricultural Value Chains: Agricultural Policy Responses to Covid-19 in Africa, examined the pandemic’s impacts on Africa’s agri-food systems and offered policy recommendations to make them more resilient and efficient.

The dialogue, which drew 770 experts from 57 countries, was the second in a series the ADI organised under its Global Community of Practice (G-CoP) to provide evidence-based policy guidance to AfDB member countries, the statement said.

Participants urged governments to prioritise agriculture and agribusiness in their national security agendas by implementing structural reforms. Proposed reforms included merging ministries of agriculture, health, trade and industry, and environment into “one health ministry” for greater impact.

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

“Many African countries must import food to meet domestic demand and so face dangerous food shortages due to Covid-19-related supply-chain disruptions. Further, a number of countries in East Africa and the Horn are grappling with another food security threat: locust swarms,” the AfDB said.

Participants noted that food insecurity had been a problem prior to the pandemic, as many African countries lacked adequate strategic food reserves. Other problems, including climate change, water scarcity, and poorly developed agricultural markets were also discussed.

These factors driving extreme hunger could kill far much more people than Covid-19 in Africa if lockdowns persisted without clearing the “choke-points” in the food supply chain to the vulnerable, the meeting observed.

“Without Covid-19, many of our people were already hungry. The pandemic has worsened the situation. Let’s call this an emergency for food production and let this crisis not waste, they noted.” Speakers likened this to “a silent war on the most vulnerable populations without guns”.

Participants offered several policy solutions, including promotion of research; enhancing capacity; and expansion of regional agricultural trade, with the African Continental Free Trade Area representing one pathway to resilient regional food supply chains.

The experts also called for the establishment of national agricultural productivity accelerator funds to support smallholder farmers and SMEs to ramp up production.

Women represent a large share of the agriculture workforce, and participants urged the deployment of funding and technical support, including cash transfers, to women and smallholder farmers to accelerate agriculture and food production. They proposed that long-term contracts should be signed with local producers, urban farmers, and suppliers to help safeguard supply.

The AfDB’s technologies for African transformation (TAAT) and the special agricultural processing zones (SCPZs) were identified as good stimulators for building resilience in African food systems and agricultural value chains.

The webinar, organised in partnership with the African Association of Agricultural Economists (AAAE), featured speakers from the World Bank, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), universities of agriculture, and agricultural policy research institutions and networks, the bank said in the statement.

The ADI is the AfDB’s focal point for capacity development. Its goal is to lead efforts at building sustainable capacity for development effectiveness in the bank’s regional member countries.

– African News Agency (ANA)