KAMPALA – It is now clear that the Covid-19 pandemic could result in a food crisis if millions of smallholder families are left out of the stimulus mechanisms being designed to restore economic normalcy. It should be noted that nearly 80% of Africa’s food production is dominated by smallholders who have been greatly affected by the pandemic. The interruptions in the supply chain resulting from restricted movements have driven significant losses for farmers in fresh foods as logistics of moving food from farm to market continues to be challenging due to measures to curb the spread of the virus. Even when the food makes it to markets, they’re no buyers as most people are locked up at home.
This situation has left most farmers without the ability to take part in the current season as most of them cannot afford agro-inputs to re-start production. Countries in Africa have been implementing stimulus packages to support Small & Micro-Businesses through fiscal and monetary policy enhancements, but there’s nothing concrete to support the millions of farmers that sustain the continent’s food needs daily. Failure to integrate stimulus interventions targeting smallholder farmers could drive the health crisis into a food crisis in a few months ahead.
Farmers require access to critical farm inputs (seed, fertilizer, and crop protection) needed in the production process. With declining incomes resulting from accumulated losses as a result of extended lockdowns and logistical challenges of moving food from farm to markets; most farmers are now left without the ability to procure these inputs for the current season. It is therefore important that governments find a way of extending these agricultural inputs through subsidy schemes or agricultural lending facilities to enable farmers to access the inputs and keep food production uninterrupted.
We also need to find a way of continuing with extension services as these are critical to enabling farmers to deal with farm management challenges and address low productivity. Traditional extension services may not be feasible as measures to curb the virus involve social distancing. Leveraging technology to drive extension services will need to be adopted now than ever before as Covid19 measures push for social distancing. Governments may need to move towards leveraging existing Agri-tech companies and support them to expand agro-extension efforts to smallholder families.
Without structured a stimulus package to support smallholder families, the Covid19 pandemic is likely to move into a food crisis, a situation that might be more difficult to deal with than the pandemic itself.
The writer, Mr. Nathan Were is the President of The Nathan & Christine Were Foundation