African governments, seed companies and regional bodies have been asked to promote appropriate agricultural technologies and innovations that may cushion smallholder farmers and agri-businesses against the negative effects of COVID- 19 pandemic on agricultural production and markets.
The call was made by renown agricultural experts from the African continent speaking Thursday during a webinar hosted by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) themed, “Promotion of technologies and innovations for agri-business resilience in Africa in the wake of COVID-19.”
During the webinar, Agriculture PS Prof. Hamadi Boga said the government developed elaborate measures and strategies to ensure food was available, accessible and affordable to the general population when the first case of COVID-19 was reported in March 2020.
Prof. Boga added that to further cushion citizens from the impact of the pandemic, the government ensured food production, processing and marketing were maintained to protect citizens from exposure to hunger.
“We have developed protocols for agricultural value chains to continue with business to avoid a food crisis,” he said.
Speaking during the same forum, the Executive Director of AATF Dr Dennis Kyetere said agri-businesses in Africa remains vulnerable to threats such as climatic change, rapid population growth, pests and other diseases.
While efforts have been made by farmers in Africa having a wide choice of agricultural innovations and strategies to support their transition from subsistence to agribusiness, Dr Kyetere noted that emerging challenges are still complicating progress made.
The Director of Agriculture and Agro-Industry at the African Development Bank, Dr Martin Fregene, noted that the Bank has unveiled a roadmap to assist African countries in tackling the food and nutrition security threat foisted by the COVID-19 crisis through a number of immediate and long-term interventions under the Feed Africa Initiative.
Dr Fregene added that the bank is also working with African governments to offer support to vulnerable communities during the pandemic.
The Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) Maize Compact Project that aims at increasing uptake and use of proven high-yielding climate-smart maize technologies by smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, is one of the Bank’s initiatives being implemented.
Dr Emmanuel Okogbenin, the Director of Programme Development and Commercialization at AATF also noted that agri-businesses in Africa face unique challenges including high post-harvest losses, poor infrastructure and limited access to agricultural finance and insurance.
“Agribusinesses in Africa is vulnerable due to varied shocks and this has been further compounded by other challenges brought about by restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic including limited access to inputs, disrupted food production, shortage of labour and closed borders,” he said.
Dr Okogbenin added that agri-business should be viewed as an economic pathway for Africa where agriculture contributes substantially and significantly among other sectors to the total Gross Domestic Product in most countries in the continent.
“There is need to create an environment that will enable investment and adoption of best practices that are profitable in agribusiness and to rapidly modernize farming to integrate commercially successful innovative technologies for agribusiness resilience in the wake of COVID-19,” he said.
On her part, the founder Rural Outreach and winner of Africa Food Prize 2017 Prof. Ruth Oniang’o said food systems in the continent will emerge stronger post-Covid-19 subject to the adoption of sound policies and innovations.
She noted that just like the creativity that has been witnessed in the healthcare sector during this pandemic period, agriculture is likewise undergoing a revolution with the help of younger and innovative farmers.
“The pandemic has left a mark on all sectors including agriculture, which is the mainstay and backbone of the African economy,” said Prof. Oniango.
Justin Rakotoarisaona, Secretary-General of the African Seed Trade Association noted that restriction in movement of human and seed, reduction in labour availability and increase in cost for seed production are some of the challenges brought about by Covid-19 in the seed sector.
Chief Executive Officer of East Africa Farmers Federation Stephen Muchiri, pointed out that the pandemic has caused a lot of disruption in production at the farmers’ level, but said that they are working closely with farmers to help them cope with the crisis by utilizing e-platforms such as the e-granary, where they link farmers to access agricultural inputs.
The agricultural experts recommended that African governments create an enabling policy environment for commercialization, support smart agro-input subsidy programmes without distorting market dynamics and promote digital agriculture solutions.