The Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic has revealed that very few countries on the African continent have the adequate policies and related mechanisms in place to cope with the pandemic shocks on their economy.
According to the second Biennial Review Report of the African Union Commission titled Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme released last week, this is even more apparent in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) region’s agriculture sector.
The report was launched at a virtual meeting and looked at Africa’s agenda towards agricultural transformation, ensuring food and nutrition security and enhancing rural development.
“This is popularly called the Maputo Declaration, said The International Water Management Institute’s senior international researcher in economics, Dr Greenwell Matchaya.
Matchaya explained that, in 2014, at the 23rd ordinary session of the African Union Assembly, Heads of African States and Governments pledged to transform Africa’s agriculture through seven broad commitments including recommitting to the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme principles and goals.
The seven commitments constitute the Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods.
The ministers of agriculture of the 16 SADC countries member states, used the meeting to consult on the Agricultural Development Fund within the SADC Regional Agricultural Policy. The conversation was about how the Agricultural Development Fund should be fast tracked to provide finance to the agriculture sector as this would assist in the eradication of poverty and the creation of employment in Southern Africa.
Matchaya said the Agricultural Development Fund was currently at the stage of finalising the Financial Sustainability Plan and the Institutional, Organisational and Governance Structure.
“This is how agriculture can be used to eradicate poverty in the region – by boosting intra-regional trade and improving access to agricultural finance,” said Matchaya.
He added that the region needs to develop plans to ensure that member states increase public expenditure to agriculture, increase access to agriculture inputs and technologies, enhance investment in resilience building and strengthen agricultural monitoring and evaluation systems.
The meeting provided an opportunity to bring together stakeholders drawn from agricultural development community in each country to discuss the region’s performance across the respective commitment areas of the Malabo.
Senior programme officer for global policy and advocacy at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Faustine Wabwire, said research shows that Africa has 60% arable land. She said even if the pandemic slowed down economic activity, the agriculture sector showed a strong resilience.
Wabwire said the continent needed stronger investment in public finances.
“Hunger is rising in Africa and there is another real threat of climate change. SADC member states need to elevate agriculture to the global agenda,” said Wabwire.
She said evidence shows that climate change stresses the global food systems and is already making food insecurity worse.
“Climate change impacts can be seen in the reduced global yield growth of wheat and maize as well as the yields of many other crops in Africa including rice, sorghum, and millet. Currently, developing countries are experiencing 20% more extreme heat than in the late 1990s, with the number of undernourished people increasing from 775 million to more than 820 million between 2014 and 2018.
“After a prolonged decline since 1990, world hunger appears to be on the rise again as 10.8% of people in the world today are still hungry. Furthermore, among the developing regions, Africa would be the most exposed to an increased risk of hunger as a result of climate variability and change,” said Wabwire.
The Biennial Review Report shows that African countries are increasingly dealing with shocks resulting from climate variability, extreme weather events (both floods and droughts), migration, and other economic uncertainties that increase vulnerability.
It states that in 2019 several African countries including Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and Mozambique were affected by cyclone Idai and cyclone Kenneth, respectively. Additionally, Northern Kenya and Namibia were ravaged by drought and weeks of heat waves that devastated crop yields and scorched grazing land, forcing livestock owners to slaughter or sell animals.
According to the report, smallholder farmers who contribute most to food production in Africa, are on the front line of suffering the impacts of climate change and other climate change related disaster risks.
“The ecosystems on which they rely are increasingly degraded and their access to suitable agricultural land and to forest resources is declining. The debacles associated with climate change and variability such as soaring food prices reduce real income, force the poor to sell their assets, decrease food consumption, reduce their dietary diversity and access to safe and quality food, and further create poverty traps that increase the prevalence of food insecurity and malnutrition,” reads the report.
Matchaya spoke about the importance of establishing national development banks and added that member states should also work towards establishing a SADC Agricultural Finance bank as proposed in the SADC regional agricultural policy.
“These will ease access to finance for farmers in the respective member countries. SADC member states should ratify the African Continental Free Trade Area. Only four out of the 16 Member States in the Region have ratified the trade area. The ratification will enhance African intra-regional trade. The member states also need to develop programmes that fully engage the youth and women in agriculture as data on women empowerment show that women are poorer in the Region,” said Matchaya