Africa has so far escaped the worst health consequences of
the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the continent looks like it could be the worst
hit from the economic fallout of the crisis: 80 million Africans could be
pushed into extreme poverty if action is not taken.
And disruptions in food systems raise the prospect of more
Africans falling into hunger. Rural people, many of whom work on small-scale
farms, are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of the crisis. It is
therefore vital that the COVID-19 response address food security and target the
At this time, the international development agenda is
prioritizing health, economies and infrastructure. But there must also be a
focus on food security, agribusiness and rural development. This is especially
important on the African continent.
Agriculture contributes 65 per cent of Africa’s employment
and 75 per cent of its domestic trade. However, the rich potential of
agriculture as a tool to promote food security and fight poverty is at risk
from the effects of COVID-19.
In March, the UN Economic Commission for Africa predicted
growth in Africa would drop from 3.2 per cent to 1.8 per cent in 2020. Within
the continent, lockdowns are disrupting inter-regional trade.
The effect of restrictive measures on food trade is
especially worrying, in particular for food-importing countries, but also
because of shrinking export markets for the continent’s farmers.
Across the European Union (the largest export market for
Africa’s fresh fruits and vegetables), demand has dropped for popular produce
such as Kenyan avocados, South African citruses and Moroccan vegetables.
Kenya has also recorded an 8.5 per cent decline for tea
exports to destinations like Iran, Pakistan and UAE. Within countries, we are
already seeing that interruptions to transport and distribution systems are
impeding small-scale farmers from accessing essential inputs – like seeds and
fertilizer – and from getting their food to markets.
African governments have defined stimulus measures to
mitigate national and regional economic impacts of COVID-19. As they do, they
must remember that investments in agriculture can be up to five times more
poverty-reducing than investments in other sectors.
Investments in rural, small-scale agriculture are
particularly important for the region’s food security, for safeguarding the
livelihoods of some of its most vulnerable people and for sustaining the gains
in poverty alleviation and wealth creation.
Small farms everywhere traditionally make a huge
contribution to global food security. Around the world, small-farm dominated
systems produce 50 per cent of all food calories on 30 per cent of the world’s
In sub-Saharan Africa, however, the role of small-scale
farms is even more significant: 80 per cent of farms are small in most of these
Even before the current crisis, globally more than 820
million people were going hungry daily. And the majority of the world’s poor
and hungry people live in the rural areas of developing countries.
In Africa, reliance on food imports, and lack of services
and infrastructure to enable small-scale farmers to produce and market food,
along with the shocks of climate change, have all increased the fragility of
In April, the World Bank projected the pandemic would hit
Africa the hardest of any region, pushing 23 million people into poverty. This
raises the question of how small producers in Africa can get access to inputs
and finance to grow and sell the food needed to ensure food security and
support livelihoods. African leaders must be in the vanguard of funding
In April, the International Fund for Agricultural
Development (IFAD) launched a multi-donor fund- COVID-19 Rural Poor Stimulus
Facility (RPSF) to address the immediate fallout of COVID-19 for rural people
in Africa and elsewhere.
IFAD specializes in investing in poor rural people,
targeting the poorest and most marginalized. Among other goals, the new
facility will provide small-scale farmers and fishers with basic inputs, and
help them access markets and maintain cash flow.
IFAD committed US$40 million to the new fund, but aims to
raise at least $200 million more from UN Member States, foundations and the
The Facility will complement and scale-up the work IFAD has already
been doing to repurpose existing project activities.
In Malawi, for example, a programme is providing social cash
transfers to ultra-poor farmers and delivering messages about financial
literacy and COVID-19 prevention.
In Eritrea, vulnerable households are receiving small
ruminants and seeds to strengthen, maintain production, access markets and
safeguard household food security during the crisis.
These immediate actions are essential to mitigate the worst
risks of the crisis. They are also important to safeguard IFAD’s past and
ongoing investments to build the long-term resilience of rural livelihoods.
Ultimately, we need to ensure that rural people and their
businesses are the foundation of resilient rural economies and food systems
across Africa. Then, when the next crisis strikes, the vulnerable people of
today will be better able to protect their livelihoods and avoid the risk of
falling into poverty and hunger.
So while it’s urgent to feed people today, we also must look
to the days, months and years ahead. This is one reason why IFAD prioritizes
long-term rural and agricultural development and building resilience to future
It is also why we urge policy makers to adapt any relevant
lessons from how previous outbreaks like the Ebola virus affected agriculture
and food systems.
In the long term, this pandemic underscores the need for
Africa to transform agriculture and agribusiness as the surest path to
inclusive economic growth, wealth generation and greater resilience.
As Special Envoys, we believe in IFAD’s exceptional mandate
and will continue to work closely with the Fund in mobilizing resources to
support the most vulnerable on the African continent.
The pandemic will expose the livelihoods of rural
marginalized groups to unprecedented challenges. To restore hope to those
affected, we commit strongly to the idea that no one will be left behind,
especially in Africa.
By Olusegun Obasanjo,
former President of the Federal Republic
of Nigeria and Hailemariam Desalegn
Boshe, former Prime Minister of the
Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. Both are IFAD Special Envoys engaged
to mobilize support and advocate for greater investment in rural areas.
Distributed by APO