IITA identifies opportunities to make a difference amidst COVID-19 spread across Africa

28 March 2020

As COVID-19 or coronavirus gets closer to home—Africa, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) has announced some opportunities for the Institute to undertake some quick-win projects that would help the continent address food security and poverty alleviation goals.

IITA Director-General Nteranya Sanginga announced these and health and safety measures to prevent the spread of the virus among staff members and their families during a virtual meeting held at the Institute’s headquarters in Ibadan, Nigeria. Top of these measures is a partial lockdown of all its offices across Africa starting 30 March.

IITA identifies opportunities to make a difference amidst COVID-19 spread across Africa

Sanginga said, “During this time, essential services and activities will continue with only a few critical persons coming to work. This precaution is necessary if we are to avoid a crisis. Our priority right now is to protect our people.” However, he called upon the staff to remain calm. Sanginga said the crisis presents an opportunity for IITA and the entire CGIAR system to continue making a difference in sub-Saharan African food systems. One way of doing this is by monitoring food prices and strengthening market supervision.

The partial lockdown applies to all IITA offices spread across 29 African countries. Unit heads were asked to continuously provide staff with information about COVID-19 and the good practices which can halt its spread such as frequent handwashing and physical distancing, which is essential in reducing the spread of the virus. In day-to-day living physical distancing means staying away from public places such as schools, churches, bars, or restaurants.

Dr Samson Adeleke, Head of IITA Clinic cautioned about stigmatization saying, “Be careful about stigmatization. If someone coughs or sneezes, it does not mean they have the virus. Stigmatization will stop people from voluntary testing.” He reminded the over 500 staff who attended the virtual meeting that most COVID-19 cases recover. “As much as we should not panic, we should also guard against a carefree attitude. Prevention is cheaper, better, and safer than cure,” he added.

Lava Kumar, who heads IITA’s Virology and germplasm health unit, urged staff members to keep a positive attitude. “Vaccines and therapeutics will soon be available,” he encouraged the staff members. He likened this outbreak to various disease and pest outbreaks in agriculture to which researchers have found solutions. “COVID-19 will not disappear, but we shall find a way of keeping it in check,” Kumar said.

Kenton Dashiell, the Deputy Director-General of Partnerships for Delivery, reiterated the message that IITA is not closing and is still available to work with governments and partners to ensure the resilience of Africa’s farming systems. “We are ready to help farmers quickly resume and improve their production while we take all the needed precautions not to contract or spread COVID-19,” he said.

Out of 52 African countries, 43 have reported a COVID-19 case. Many African countries have closed their borders to foreigners, allowing in only citizens and residents who must undergo a 14-day quarantine. Nigeria, where IITA has its headquarters, has so far registered 70 cases and one death.

While continuing to take precautions against the spread of this virus, IITA remains committed to the reduction of poverty, and food and nutrition insecurity in Africa.

To get daily COVID19 updates, visit the WHO website.

IITA media contact

Katherine Lopez, k.lopez@cgiar.org