By Oluchi Chibuzor
The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the African Union (AU) and international partners, have challenged the continent’s leaders on the need to ensure access to food and nutrition for Africa’s most vulnerable.
They, however, described food and agriculture system as an essential service that must continue to operate during periods of lockdown, emergency, curfew and other containment measures.
This, is coming as the regional body and UN agency joined forces to minimise lockdown’s impact on continent, saying one in five person goes hungry.
In a joint declaration, they committed to supporting access to food and nutrition for Africa’s most vulnerable; providing Africans with social safety nets; minimising disruptions to the safe movement and transport of essential people, and to the transport and marketing of goods and services; and keeping borders open on the continent for the food and agriculture trade.
In his opening remarks, during a meeting that was held virtually, FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu, said quick, strategic action was needed to lessen the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on food security in Africa.
According to him, “Border closures restrict trade and limit food availability in many countries, particularly those dependent on food imports.”
On her part, the Chair of the African Union Specialised Technical Committee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Water and Environment and Minister for Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development of South Africa Angela Thoko Didiza, cautioned against any moves to weaken inter-regional trade.
The FAO’s Chief Economist, Maximo Torero, pointed out the growing evidence of logistical strains in food markets,-which Qu suggested should be mitigated by “shortening the chain,” producing more, better, and locally if possible.
Meanwhile, the CEO of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), Ibrahim Mayaki, has warned of risks to social stability if food and cash were to run low among Africa’s urban residents.
Many government representatives described strenuous efforts to bolster welfare benefits, often at great cost to national budgets.
Also, the European Commissioner for Agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski, outlined an EU support package for Africa that should eventually exceed $20 billion.
Similarly, World Bank’s Simeon Ehui also detailed support initiatives, including the possibility of re-purposing $3.2 billion in uncommitted funding.
Speaking for the African Development Bank, Martin Fregene, concluded with details of a COVID-19 response programme that includes targeted technical and financial support.
The online meeting had all 55 AU member states represented, with 45 Agriculture Ministers connecting virtually, outlined the challenges posed by the pandemic, in a region of the world where a fifth of the population is undernourished.
The document was adopted at a gathering co-organized by the AU and FAO and convened virtually.
The participants however adopted the resolution as a political declaration.