COVID-19 and Africa’s Agriculture: Why Farmers Need Our Help Now More Than Ever
By Zuneid Yousuf, Chairman of African Green Resources
The global coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly had a profound impact on Africa, particularly across Southern Africa. While many countries continue to reel from different outbreaks across the region, economic estimates are projecting financial difficulties and a protracted period of economic contraction.
The African Development Bank Group (AfDB) estimated in July that the Southern African region will experience negative economic growth of 4.9% throughout this year because of the virus. This is particularly the case for South Africa which is also concurrently facing a projected recession in 2020, affecting both the public and private sectors, as well as a continued rise in confirmed coronavirus cases. The AfDB also remarked that Zambia’s real GDP is set to decline by 4% in 2020 due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. More alarmingly, this was reinforced by Finance Minister Bwalya Ng’andu, who announced that Zambia’s economic growth in 2020 has been revised downwards to around minus 4.2% growth.
Now more than ever, we need to look inwards and empower local industry to collectively fight and weather the impact of the ongoing pandemic. Although the coronavirus crisis has presented a series of new challenges which have highlighted the ability to adapt, it is clear that the countries of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have been grappling with the challenge posed by food insecurity and susceptibility to external market shocks for many years. While the coronavirus may be a new phenomenon, these issues have been a long-term challenge.
In Zambia, my country, the Government has enacted strict immigration controls, screening, and suspended non-essential travel. This will undoubtedly force us to look inward to offset the economic impact of halting foreign travel and tourism. In addition, as the country looks to scrutinise imports and foreign goods, we are increasingly relying on local produce and agriculture to sustain and help tackle food insecurity. For this to succeed, it is crucial that we support our agriculture and agribusiness sector and promote grassroots initiatives by Zambians and for Zambians.
One perfect avenue through which we can develop economic stability and tackle food insecurity is the agriculture sector, a sector rich in opportunity and diversity, and one which has been severely overlooked. Given the global public health crisis we are currently facing, the need for greater food security is paramount. Now is a pivotal time for us to harness the opportunities provided by our rich and diverse agricultural sector and help empower farming communities.
Agriculture and agribusiness are undoubtedly important parts of the economy in every SADC nation, making important contributions to GDP and a major employer across the region. Though the sector represents a large segment of Zambia’s economy, it still needs significant support to be able to thrive and grow during these challenging times.
As chairman of African Green Resources, I am working with international partners to promote and support agribusiness and agriculture-focused initiatives that empower Zambian farmers and provide increased access to capital markets. We have partnered with US-based African Fertiliser and Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP) to launch a USD 40 million joint venture to boost crop yields and food security. We will be rolling out a scheme to support 250,000 subsistence farmers to double their maize yields, with the view to feed approximately 10 million people in Zambia and the wider region.
Similar success stories are evident in South Africa and Botswana, and the next stage in Zambia is to facilitate the Economic Association of Zambia’s Citizens Entrepreneur Development Program, a multi-platform initiative to help harness local talent and expertise to promote economic growth through entrepreneurship. The program will help train, empower, and support agricultural entrepreneurs through a digitised platform. Initiatives such as these are paramount in fostering a nurturing and dynamic environment for the agriculture and agribusiness sector, allowing us to have greater confidence in Zambia’s potential as a local agriculture hub.
With the ongoing pandemic adding even more pressure to our economies, it is becoming increasingly important for us to look inward and invest in our local communities. I believe that empowering local farmers and farming industries in the region would not only achieve this, revitalising our crucial agriculture sector, but it will also enable economies to diversify more successfully and become more robust at dealing with future global issues. A more diverse economy is a more robust one, and one which can adapt and thrive despite external shocks.