Editorial : African leaders impressed upon not to neglect agriculture amid COVID-19

Two prominent African statesmen with a passion for agriculture have written an opinion piece featured in this edition of the paper which is worth giving a thought, considering the havoc wreaked by the COVID-19 pandemic globally.

They approach the article through the prism of agriculture, its importance to the continent and its peoples, and how COVID-19 could impact it negatively and the prospects thereof.

General Olusegun Obasanjo and former Ethiopian Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn Boshe, note that Africa has so far escaped the worst health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, both admit that the continent looks like it could be the worst hit from the economic fallout of the crisis, as 80 million Africans could be pushed into extreme poverty if action is not taken.

“And disruptions in food systems raise the prospect of more Africans falling into hunger. Rural people, many of whom work on small-scale farms, are particularly vulnerable to impacts of the crisis. It is therefore vital that the COVID-19 response addresses food security and targets the rural poor.”

They note that while the international development agenda is prioritising health, economies and infrastructure, there must also be a focus on food security, agribusiness and rural development.

“This is especially important on the African continent.”  This is because agriculture contributes 65 percent of Africa’s employment and 75 percent of its domestic trade.

The African statesmen observe that African governments have defined stimulus measures to mitigate national and regional economic impacts of COVID-19. However, they equally believe that investments in agriculture can be up to five times more poverty-reducing than investments in other sectors.

Consequently, the leaders believe strongly that in the long-term this pandemic underscores the need for Africa to transform agriculture and agribusiness as the surest path to inclusive economic growth, wealth generation and greater resilience.

It becomes imperative considering that before the current crisis, globally, more than 820 million people were going hungry daily: and the majority of the world’s poor and hungry people live in the rural areas of developing countries.

“In Africa, reliance on food imports and lack of services and infrastructure to enable small-scale farmers to produce and market food, along with the shocks of climate change, have all increased the fragility of food access.”

We believe both statesmen have provided eloquent proof as to why the continent cannot ignore agriculture, even as its individual nations tackle the pandemic’s negative economic impacts.

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