By Absalom Mulama*

Roland Foumundam, CEO GreenHouse Ventures Ltd, Cameroon has been using  greenhouse technology to increase  food production
Roland Foumundam, CEO GreenHouse Ventures Ltd, Cameroon has been using greenhouse technology to increase food production

Over 80 million Africans could be pushed into extreme poverty if proper action is not taken by authorities, two eminent leaders have said.

In an article addressed to all top media houses targeting African heads of States, the leaders Olusegun Obasanjo, former President of Nigeria and Hailemariam Desalegn Boshe, former Prime Minister of Ethiopia, noted Africa stands to suffer immensely from the COVID-19 economic fallout, fearing that disruptions in food systems raise the prospect of more Africans falling into hunger.

Rural people, many of whom work on small-scale farms, they noted, are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of the crisis. It is therefore vital that the COVID-19 response address food security and target the rural poor.

The article emphasizes that leaders should focus on food security, agribusiness and development of rural areas in order to build a stable foundation. The international agenda, they observed, is focusing on health, economies and infrastructure but the African government should focus on food security, agribusiness and rural development.

Noting that agriculture contributes to 75 per cent of Africa’s domestic trade and 65 per cent of its employment, they urged Africa leaders to focus on activities that strengthen and maintain agricultural productivity and market access, while safeguarding household food security.

The eminent persons express their worry at the fact that 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,” read part of the article.

African governments have to define stimulus measures to mitigate national and regional economic impacts of COVID-19.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has launched a multi donor fund program known as the Rural Poor Stimulus Facility (RPSF), for both short term and long term solutions. The RSPF program’s goal is to help cushion African agribusiness players from the negative COVID-19 economic effects, and build long term resilience for rural livelihoods.

The IFAD organization is focused on the long-term solutions for Africa and has committed US$40 million, to their Rural Poor Stimulus Facility program, with an aim to raise at least $200 million more from UN Member States, foundations and the private sector.

While noting that it is urgent to feed people today, they urged government to look to the days, months and years ahead. On this approach, they singled out IFAD for prioritizing long-term rural and agricultural development and building resilience to future shocks.

“We urge policy makers to adapt any relevant lessons from how previous outbreaks like the Ebola virus affected agriculture and food systems,” they said.

The two former African leaders emphasized that this is the time to build a proper agricultural foundation that is well equipped to withstand the effects of a similar pandemic in the future.

* Absalom Mulama is a freelance journalist based the Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture based in Nairobi, Kenya,

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