Coronavirus: FAO, AU shift focus on food security in Africa

by Muizat Hameed

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the African Union have declared commitment to improving access to food and nutrition for African countries.

This was disclosed at a virtual meeting convened with members of all 55 AU member states.

The meeting, which was held on Thursday April 16, 2020, was moderated by the AU Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, Josefa Sacko.

According to the statement released at the meeting, the commitment will cover provision of safety nets; reduction of disruptions to safe movement, adequate supply of essential items and services to people. Also, borders will be opened for food and agriculture trade.

FAO and AU said, “Food and agriculture system are essential services that must continue to operate during periods of lockdown, emergency, curfew and other containment measures”.

In his opening remarks, Director-General QU Dongyu stated that “Quick, strategic action is needed to lessen the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on food security in Africa.”

“Border closures restrict trade and limit food availability in many countries, particularly those dependent on food imports,” he added.

While expressing support for measures that will improve food supply chains, he noted that they must be kept alive.

Angela Thoko Didiza, Minister for Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development of South Africa, joined Qu in opening the debate.

The Minister, whose country currently chairs the AU, cautioned against any moves to weaken inter-regional trade. Both officials highlighted the toll taken by lockdowns in a continent where informal markets, rather than supermarkets, provide a lifeline for most consumers.

FAO’s Chief Economist, Maximo Torero, pointed to growing evidence of logistical strains in food markets – strains which Qu suggested should be mitigated by shortening the chain: producing more, better, and locally if possible.

Minister after minister intervened to outline the challenges posed by the pandemic, in a region of the world where a fifth of the population is undernourished.

The CEO of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), Ibrahim Mayaki, warned of risks to social stability if food and cash were to run low among Africa’s urban residents.

Many government representatives also described strenuous efforts to bolster welfare benefits, often at great cost to national budgets.

Echoing these concerns, the European Commissioner for Agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski, outlined an EU support package for Africa that should eventually exceed $20 billion.

The World Bank’s Simeon Ehui also detailed support initiatives, including the possibility of re-purposing $3.2 billion in uncommitted funding.

Speaking for the African Development Bank, Martin Fregene concluded with details of a COVID-19 response programme that includes targeted technical and financial support.

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