Coronavirus | Time running out to avoid African food crisis, UN agency warns

Africa must move swiftly to prevent a looming food crunch caused by coronavirus disruption for small-scale producers, the head of a UN agency says.

"People in lockdown no longer have access to public transport systems, to seeds, to informal markets, to sell their goods or buy inputs such as seed and fertiliser," said Gilbert Houngbo, head of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

"The closure of major highways and bans on exports could also harm food systems," he told AFP in an interview.

"The breaking of logistical chains is one of the biggest problems to resolve," he said. "We have to act right now to prevent a health crisis from becoming a food crisis."

IFAD specialises in help for poor rural populations, seeking to strengthen food security and employment through low-interest loans and grants.

The agency on Monday said it had committed $40 million to a fund called the Covid-19 Rural Poor Stimulus Facility, aimed at easing the impact of the pandemic on food production and market access.

It appealed for at least $200 million more from UN members, foundations and the private sector.

Houngbo, a former prime minister of Togo, said time was short for strengthening the safety net in rural Africa.

"In the coming weeks," he said, there was the basic logistical problem of getting fertiliser to farmers as they prepared for the sowing season.

Another challenge was how to manage a buildup of harvests in rural areas, where 80 percent of the population is poor.

"We are helping to find local outlets for harvests which otherwise will be lost for lack of transport, and we are helping governments to buy up stocks of agricultural products which they can then distribute to people in need."

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