Development partners meet to address Africa’s food security amid COVID-19

10 June 2020

In 2018, over 200 million people in Africa were undernourished due to food shortages. The advent of coronavirus has added another dimension to this issue. An examination of these problems led to the World Bank and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) convening a virtual conference to put together a response plan to address these issues.

Dr-Development partners meet to address Africa’s food security amid COVID-19Kwesi-Atta-Krah
Dr Kwesi Atta-Krah was interviewed for BBC Focus on Africa.

A recent BBC Focus on Africa segment featured an interview with CGIAR-IITA Director of Advocacy and Country Alignment Function (ACAF), Kwesi Atta-Krah, during which he explained some of the challenges facing African agriculture and food security during the pandemic. Atta-Krah spoke about the likely negative impact of the crisis, especially if it is prolonged. He said this is mainly due to our food supply relying heavily on smallholder farmers who are mostly over the age of 50.

Atta-Krah also identified seed supply as another potential problem area because the lockdown may limit commercial activities, leaving farmers with the option of eating their seeds if they are unable to purchase food for their families. By the time the pandemic is over, these farmers may have exhausted the inputs they had initially set aside for planting.

BBC program host Audrey Brown asked why this is a specific problem in Africa rather than in other parts of the world: “Has it got to do with the profile of the farmers, the size of the farms, or the methods?”

“I would not say it is particularly restricted to Africa. I can see this same scenario playing out in some parts of the world where you have smallholder farmers,” Atta-Krah said. He noted that smallholder farmers, who often have challenges in resources, need money to get inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides, etc. Given the present situation, this is going to be a lot of pressure to achieve.

With several countries in Africa locked down for two months now, Atta-Krah expressed hope that the scenario will change soon because the longer the situation goes on, the more damage it would cause. “Part of the challenge is that several countries are also putting in place policies to try to prevent food from being exported. So, if you are a country that has been depending on food imports from neighboring countries, you will feel the effects of some of the restrictions because of this coronavirus,” he continued.

However, a positive dimension to the crisis is the recognition that countries need to achieve a higher level of self-sufficiency. Atta-Krah notes that this has alerted governments of the necessity to support their farmers so that they can produce what the country needs and have some for export.

Atta-Krah reported on the progress from the conference, highlighting the West Africa Resilient Food Systems project and funding by some of the development partners, including the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

While these have been challenging times for Africa, Attah-Krah is optimistic that COVID-19 has triggered the understanding that there has to be collaborative engagement between governments as no single country can address the issue of Africa’s food security all by themselves.

“We are beginning to see the political dimension being built into the technical processes, and I believe that this is going to result in real energy that will be brought into the agriculture domain,” he concluded.