May 13 2020

Steering local response and solutions to safeguard African farming communities and food sovereignty

The COVID-19 pandemic has had far reaching impacts on African economies, food insecurity and general well-being of African communities. Apart from the obvious health implications and disruption of livelihood, the pandemic has also disrupted food supply and left many people in real danger of acute starvation. As many countries adopt WHO[1] recommended procedures to limit the movement of people and goods to reduce the spread of the infection, small scale farming communities are bearing the burden of the major disruptions to the food supply systems, as well as unprecedented lost income, harvests and livestock. Fragile land tenure arrangements, especially for women farmers have contributed to increased vulnerabilities. As world food trade is coming to a halt, the pandemic has exposed how dependent African food systems are on global food imports, now buckling under border closures.  Investments in safeguarding local farmers’ rights, food systems and increased production are very low, leading to high food prices and widespread food insecurity and hunger in the region.

While global food stocks are relatively adequate now, according to FAO, it is becoming quite obvious that, as a result of lockdowns in several countries, the speculative hoarding of commodities will continue to raise prices with grave implications for regions like Africa, where food insecurity is more rife and pronounced.   Restrictions on food exports from and imports into Africa, as well as currency exchange rate losses, are likely to increase food prices into the second half of the year. FAO GIEWS (2020) estimates that at least six African countries, mostly landlocked, will have a widespread lack of access to food, whilst most countries in Africa will have to contend with an increasing localized food insecurity and unsettled control over their food supply and will require external food assistance as a result of the halt in food supply and trade.

In our work with small-scale farmers and farmer-based organisations across Africa, we have seen many of them take the lead in mobilising local responses and adopting solutions for the immediate and urgent needs of their communities. Among other things, small-scale farmers (SSF) are mobilizing and  boldly raising their voices to protect their rights, especially in view of the inequalities of the COVID19 responses and apparent neglect of small scale farming communities.

Noting the lack of appropriate information on the pandemic and how it affects small scale farming communities, our partners, such as Peasant Farmers’ Association of Ghana, in Ghana are developing locally appropriate, approved information pieces on the safety measures that should be taken, the rights that farmers have as well as social safety nets available in each country to help build resilience to this shock. SSF organizations are collecting real time impact on value chain disruptions and submitting to local government institutions.

In East Africa, small scale farmers under the Eastern and Southern Africa Farmers Forum (ESAFF)  are mobilizing themselves to cope with the challenges posed by the changing environment. In Uganda, for instance, farmer groups are assisting their members who are stranded with perishable produce by providing them with links to  transport and buyers. Also, in Rwanda, where crops are usually ferried using bicycles and motorcycles that are now banned under lockdown measures, farmers are aggregating their produce so they can use big trucks to get their produce to markets. By transporting together, they are also able to negotiate better prices with truck owners. Most importantly, as they anticipate the needs of a new cropping season under lockdown measures, farmers are encouraging local seed sharing to address the limited access to seed markets.

In Malawi and Zimbabwe, Southern Africa, farmers and traders are lobbying local authorities to re-open mass food markets for farmer trading whilst ensuring safety measures are in place. Most small sale farmers rely on aggregating their produce into these mass markets for wholesale. In Tanzania, members of Mifugo Forum[2] have also been frontliners in supporting their farmers, livestock keepers and pastoralists. there is no doubt that women are most vulnerable to shocks such as this one. Our partner, women’s rights organization, Maasai Women Development Organization (MWEDO) based in Arusha, Tanzania are supporting Maasai women groups to access health services and improve awareness of the coronavirus and preventive measures. MWEDO has supplied  handwash dispensers, hand soaps, protective gear (facemasks) and gloves to district offices in Simanjiro, Longido and Kiteto. Pastoralists are also among the marginalized communities that are at high risk of being affected by the pandemic. Tanzania Pastoralist Community Forum (TPCF) in Arusha is assisting the community to mitigate  the effects  of the pandemic by raising awareness as well as supplying protective gear, hand wash containers and soaps which are not easily accessible  to rural  marginalized villages. Working in collaboration with local authorities to monitor movement and defend the rights and traditions of mobile communities to move and find feed for their livestock has been quite useful.

SSF organisations have in solidarity, petitioned governments and  African Union Commission, businesses and consumers alike, to  address the immediate loss of livelihoods,  looming hunger and food supply crisis by increasing support to local farmers, as well as providing social safety packages in the form of cash grants and food and input subsidies and unlocking access to markets. In a series of online conferences, partner small-scale farmer organisations, alongside TrustAfrica and other partners, have discussed and recommended actions that governments could take to respond to the needs of vulnerable farming communities.

On 16 April 2020, African Ministers of Agriculture acknowledged the devastating effects of COVID19 in the region and declared their commitment to put in place measures to reduce the negative impact on food systems in Africa. They also expressed their commitment to  optimize resources and mitigate the critical challenges leading to income losses, while  exploiting the opportunities presented by the closure of borders to improve local food and livestock production, value addition and distribution and cushion local food systems to shocks. These measures are, no doubt, laudable. However, to facilitate implementation, governments and the African Union must adopt inclusive and mutually accountable approaches with small-scale farming and rural communities to work out the most inclusive and optimum solutions to the crisis these communities face.

Other recommendations are that governments should avail resources like prevention kits and hygiene kits, to small scale farmers,  as part of measures to prevent COVID-19 contaminations. In addition to these, social protection provision for the small scale farmers needs to be prioritized. As an immediate measure, farmers are calling for the institution of strategic food reserve funds that will facilitate the reopening of food supply chains and subsidize inputs for small-scale farmers. In the long term, it is very possible that small-scale farmers as well as food traders and manufacturers can be locked out of the food supply chain in favour of large-scale enterprises more resilient to shocks if they are not supported with incentive packages to bounce back next season from these losses. The pandemic will continue to devastate the livelihoods of small-scale farmers if sustainable resilience building models of food production and support to local food systems are not adopted.

Now is the time for open dialogue to promote appropriate food sovereignty measures in the short and long term as a defense against economic shock, hunger and food insecurity in Africa.



[2] Livestock Policy Advocacy Network in Tanzania, formed in 2016

Read 1445 times Last modified on Thursday, 14 May 2020 14:21

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