I keep participating in the recent COVID-19 Open Online Briefings which reinforce my understanding of how the COVID pandemic is have further repercussions and deep impact in the countries in the Global South, especially in Africa. My most recent article published as a column in the September 2021 issue of the Dutch magazine ‘Vork’ below dives into these issues. It also reflects on the very well-attended pre-summit UNFSS meeting in Rome in July. More concerted efforts are required to mitigate the many consequences brought about by COVID-19.
This article is a revision by Ad Spijkers of his text which was published as a column in the September 2021 issue of the Dutch magazine Vork.
Conflicts, extreme weather and stagnant economies have pushed the goal of zero hunger in 2030 further out of the picture, write a number of UN organizations in their annual State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World. While the impact of COVID-19 has yet to be fully assessed, the pandemic has already aggravated hunger and malnutrition worldwide. New virus variants and explosive disease outbreaks mainly affect poorer countries with weak health care systems where vaccination has barely started.
One such country is the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC); a nation about the same size as Western Europe. The country has fertile soils, nearly 50 percent of Africa’s fresh water, and is home to the world’s second largest tropical forest. It has climatic conditions that allow agriculture, livestock and fishing all year round. Yet, DRC is unable to provide its inhabitants with sufficient, nutrient-rich food.
What applies to DRC agriculture also applies to its other primary economic sector, mining. Minerals should make DRC one of the richest countries in Africa, yet the country lags in multiple socio-economic indicators and has unparalleled poverty. In addition, armed groups have been disrupting society in the East for more than two decades, quite apart from the fact that peace-keeping operations by United Nations troops have a price tag of one billion dollars a year.
The situation in DRC and elsewhere in Africa likely will be considerably worsened by COVID-19 and climate change, according to the UN Food Systems pre-Summit (held in July 2021). Using DRC as an example, US development economist Jeffrey Sachs argued for a different food system “based on principles of human dignity, sovereignty, and economic rights.” According to him, the G20 should become the G21 by inviting the African Union (AU) as the 21st “country” – following the example of the European Union (EU). As such, an additional 1.4 billion people (or ~20%) of the world’s population would get a seat at the negotiation table.
Despite the myriad of socio-economic implications and loss of life, the COVID-19 pandemic also offers a unique opportunity to reshape agricultural and food systems in Africa and thus also in DRC. Africans must hereby take the reins into their own hands. Innovative fund mobilization schemes offer a lot of potential here, including concrete and pragmatic public investments and joint ventures with national, regional organizations and the private sector.
An essential part of a better agricultural policy remains the strategic and responsible use of water, (natural, artificial) fertilizers and crop protection methods. By drawing upon farming systems approaches, resource-conserving practices and agronomic insights, a sustainably intensifed smallholder agriculture can provide for the growing food needs, while preserving local soil fertility, water management and biodiversity.
To drive better prices for agri-food products, the newly minted African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement should also gain momentum. As a result, barriers can be lifted and pan-African trade can finally take off. Efforts are equally needed to stimulate small-scale agriculture, kindle Africans’ enterpreneurial spirits and let thousands of rural agro-enterprises flourish.
Experiences in Asia and elsewhere can serve as an example in setting Africa’s development agenda. For example, over the past 30 years, Vietnam has swiftly transitioned from a war-ravaged, famished nation to a major food exporter. Policy reforms, advanced agri-food technologies, well-orchestrated input-reduction programs and matching investments made this change possible.
COVID-19 is slowly but steadily becoming the ‘disease of the poor world’. Not only must the pace of vaccinations in Africa (and elsewhere) accelerate but investments are also needed to nip future pandemics in the bud. In that light, the recently held UN Food Summit could be the go-ahead for an African agricultural policy aimed at self-reliance and equality. It can equally offer bright prospects for the revival of DRC’s once prosperous agriculture and the associated food system.
Thanks to Orlando de Ponti, Martin Smith and Kris Wyckhuys.
About this 4SD Reflection
This article is a reflection by Ad Spijkers following the COVID-19 Open Online Briefings of Dr David Nabarro.
Ad worked as Representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. He is part of a group of Wageningen development veterans with extensive experience in Africa and Asia.
Participants of the COVID-19 Open Online Briefings are invited to share their reflections on how they are navigating complexities from their own perspectives. The views and opinions expressed in these reflections are intended to inspire greater systems leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of 4SD as an organisation or it’s associated personnel. Any content provided by authors are of their opinion and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual or anyone or anything.