An impact scan based on reports by farmers’ organisations from Africa
The current outbreak of the COVID-19 virus in developing countries is very likely to disrupt food production and supply at the global level. Although the outbreak in many of these countries is at its early stages, interruptions in commerce as well as in local production, storage, processing and distribution are already observed in many countries. Equally problematic are observed shortfalls in supply of agricultural inputs and resulting incapacity of farmers to prepare their fields for the next season. This is very likely to greatly affect food security and safety in the immediate future in all OECD countries.
Mid-March 2020, AgriCord Alliance has taken the initiative to consult farmer leaders and organisations throughout developing countries to inventory current impacts of the pandemic and proposed solutions per continent. Although these testimonies are very contextual (depending on the value chain, the country, the natural resources available), they give a good indication of the current state of affairs.
The following sections give an overview of the reports received between mid-March and early April.
Food security and safety
Consulted African farmer representatives fear that the stability of local food systems and, consequently, food security and food safety in African countries and regions are already under imminent threat. Cooperatives in the Democratic Republic of Congo report fast reducing incomes because of shrinking business opportunities, with a risk of famine in many rural areas. Some regions are better prepared than others, but detailed (quantified) information is fragmented and/or incomplete.
Their peers in Kenya (FF-SPAK) and Mozambique (AKA) are reporting the same problems for their constituencies: soaring production costs, collapsing markets and decreasing incomes, with fears of a prolonged downward trend. An increased influx of urban population to the rural areas, potentially increasing pressure on local food systems and possibly increasing risks of contamination and spread of the virus. Concerns have also been expressed on fuel supply and particularly in areas relying on firewood, where increasing pressure may lead to a surge of uncontrolled and illegal wood extraction from already overexploited forests.
In most of West African and East African cities, prices for food are rapidly increasing, with perceptions of shortage of food as one of the main causes. History shows that these perceptions can escalate and lead to conflicts, especially when governments close borders for export/import of food. Such ad hoc measures (of closing borders) seem fair policy decisions in this type of crisis, but will interrupt food supply and generate conflict, especially in border areas.
Consulted farmers’ organizations (EAFF, reporting on Tanzania and Uganda) also point out that farmer markets, restaurants and hotels are closing, substantially reducing farmers’ commerce and affecting their income. This is particularly the case for smallholder farmers, that rely on human contact (public markets in urban and rural areas) to sell their produce. As for farmers’ organizations with international markets, Congolese (RDC) cocoa growers report the closure of custom services for exportation of cocoa. Similarly, coffee and red pepper farmers are concerned about being cut off of their international buyers in the near future.
The Tanzania Horticulture Association signals that the cancellation of most passenger airlines used to transport sizeable volumes of horticultural produce is greatly affecting their marketing and causing major food and financial losses. Since the end of March, regional and international markets for horticultural products are almost inaccessible for Tanzanian producers. On average, horticultural produce worth approximately USD 64,000,000 is exported from Tanzania to international markets every month. This turnover has been reduced by 80% since the beginning of the pandemic, a major drop in the influx of foreign currency in the country.
We Effect East Africa reports that deliveries of coffee for collection, sorting and grading/marketing has drastically dropped, milling has slowed down and the association will not be able to respect the international coffee marketing calendar.
Supplies of inputs and seeds
the Senegalese farmers’ organization CNCR (Conseil National de Concertation et de Coopération des Ruraux) have signaled increasing difficulties of obtaining farming inputs (fertilizers, seeds) which farmers need to prepare the growing season (March-May). Senegal farmers are already anticipating losses in income and difficulties to fulfill their credit payments. Difficulties with regards to input supplies are also reported by farmers' organisations in Burkina Faso and Tanzania. Input producing factories in China and the EU have closed, and the availability of inputs such as soluble fertilizers, pesticides, packaging material is almost zero. Sectors heavily dependent on timely delivery of these inputs, namely the horticulture sector, are already greatly affected.
The East-African Farmer Federation reports that disruptions are also felt with regards to services to farmers: extension and training, as well as financial (microcredit) services. Portfolios at risk are becoming very difficult to manage by FOs delivering financial services to their members, reports EAFF. Several rural financial service providers are decapitalizing rapidly.
Farmers’ income and finance
Farmers' organisations in Burkina Faso and Guinea communicate declines in income due to hampered marketing and sales, a reduction in services to members, closing farmer markets, reduced interregional transport and increased vulnerability of smallholder farmers. Farmers are already selling household assets such as livestock at bargain prices,
Farm operations are also affected by a reduction of availability of (seasonal) workers in the field is already felt: whereas some workers now prefer working on their own farms, others cannot travel because of government restrictions. Foreign workers or workers coming from other villages and regions are no longer welcome in certain regions or countries. According to farmers’ reports, the labor market in the north of Benin, Nigeria, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire is already disturbed. This will most probably affect food production in Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria and Ghana as well as the incomes of young workers from Burkina Faso, Benin and Togo. NADO in Tanzania and We Effect East Africa are also reporting the absence of seasonal workers and apprehend heavy losses in quality and quantity of coffee.
SACAU, echoed by the other African farmers’ organizations, reports that the rural population is very badly informed. Government communication is often deficient and confusing and incorrect information and superstitious beliefs about the virus itself and the outbreak is circulating freely among people, creating panic and potential conflict.
Inequalities, gender and vulnerable groups
Confinement, lack of social control and financial stress at family-level is likely to augment the possibility of gender-based violence, and in very poor households the risk of “food for sex” in case of food insecurity. For households headed by women, loss of employment will increase vulnerability and exposure to violence from creditors. With justice systems on hold, violators are likely to be encouraged by the lack of law-and-order.
Farmers organisations response
Where they can, African farmers' organisations are assisting their members and the local population. FF-SPAK in Kenya is implementing home gardens to assure food security in urban areas, for example. The National Platform of Farmers' and Agricultural Producers' Organizations of Benin (PNOPPA) has taken steps to support the Beninese government in preventing the spread of Covid-19. The Union des groupements des agriculteurs Mowossokpo (UGAM), has distributed a video capsule on Covid-19 prevention to raise awareness among their members, such as on systematic hand-washing. They are communicating and implemented the recommendations of the authorities and are preparing to take other measures if necessary.
WLSA in Zimbabwe have filed an urgent Chamber Application on behalf of the Harare Residents Association for access to water during the lockdown. Respondents shall ensure that there is a safe, constant, adequate and uninterrupted supply of clean and safe water to the 46 wards of Harare during the period of the lockdown. From a gender perspective, the burden of securing water for household use falls mainly on the shoulders of women and girls. Because of the crowding at the water collection points women and girls have a higher risk of exposure to Covid-19.
In Togo, the Togolese Coordination of Farmers' and Agricultural Producers' Organizations (CTOP) calls for farmer solidarity through communication on containment measures and food distribution to the most vulnerable. The CTOP also calls for the implementation of a seed sales strategy between seed companies and producers, allowing payment by installments, to guarantee the use of certified seeds.