As the world continues to grapple with the impacts of the global coronavirus pandemic, Olam, a leading food and agribusiness, is deploying its expansive global capability to strengthen the livelihoods resilience of smallholder farmers in Africa.
According to a survey conducted by Olam to evaluate the impact of the outbreak on the African farming communities, smallholder farmers on the continent showed vulnerabilities to the shocks and aftereffects of the global disruptions on agricultural value chains.
The survey report which was presented recently, during a webinar themed ‘The Impact of COVID-19 on Farming Communities Across Africa’, in partnership with African Business Magazine, revealed that 68 per cent of smallholder farmers reported a steep reduction in income as compared to before COVID.
The survey gave insights into other critical areas of the impact of COVID-19 such as production, food security, livelihoods coping strategies and children’s rights. It exposed adverse levels of food insecurity and locally adopted coping strategies amongst farming communities which have given rise to less nutritious diets, increased risk of child labour and the sale of farming and personal assets as a coping strategy.
The survey was carried out across 19 countries among 3,432 farmers globally, among whom 1,663 were smallholder farmers located in 7 African countries.
According to the survey report, 55 per cent of farmers surveyed in Africa said they had produced less on their farms in the past season; 47 per cent said farm inputs like seeds and fertilizers, were less available in the local market; 42 per cent said it was harder to find labourers; and 55 per cent said they had less money to afford farm inputs or hired labour.
COVID is also impacting farmers’ ability to consume an adequate diet. Three in five surveyed farmers in Africa said they had skipped meals recently or were eating less nutritious diets. Reasons cited included having insufficient food stored, or their food stocks becoming spoiled or infested.
The survey findings also pointed to worrying impacts on children’s rights, with one out of 3 African respondents (with children aged 15 and under) saying their children are spending more time working to contribute to household income. This may be driven by a combination of schools remaining closed, and the lower availability or affordability of farm labour.
Julie Greene, Vice President, Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability, Olam, stated, “Partnership between those in the private and public sector is essential to deliver some of the vital interventions urgently needed by African smallholder farmers, to improve farmers access to loans, labour and farming inputs, as well as income diversification support. Establishing a steady path to recovery will take time for the majority of smallholders. Our survey data strongly suggests that the scope of the actions needed to improve their outlook needs to be far broader, deeper, and more sustained than what we may have expected a year ago to prevent a downward spiral of economic uncertainty, low productivity, and food insecurity.”
Highlighting the various intervention programmes initiated by the agribusiness firm, Greene said, “Olam is directly supporting over 500,000 smallholder farmers on the African continent. The prevailing situations that are impacting farming communities have forced us to be more innovative. We are deploying digital tools to amplify our impact to help smallholder farmers gain access to vital agronomic info and advice. These digital tools facilitate market linkages for the farmers as well as deepening relationships along the value chain to boost productivity and raise incomes.”
The African agriculture value chain webinar provided an in-depth analysis of the survey conducted by Olam. It also presented a roadmap for investment in smallholder farmers across the continent.
Debisi Araba, a member of the Malabo Montpelier Panel, moderated the webinar panel discussion that comprised Julie Greene; Ify Umunna, Co-CEO of Nourishing Africa; Jihane Ajijti, Head of Strategy, Partnerships and Delivery, OCP Africa; Kagwiria Koome, Manager, Food Initiative at the Rockefeller Foundation and Samuel Dzotefe, Regional Manager for Agriculture and Agribusiness in sub-Saharan Africa at the International Finance Corporation (IFC).
The panelists provided divergent perspectives and proffered solutions to the impact of the pandemic on the livelihood of smallholder farmers across the continent. Kwagiria Koome advocated for investment in energy infrastructure to help smallholder farmers gain access to cold storage and rice threshing facilities. Ify Umunna advised the government to focus more on providing “enabling policies that are consistent, fair and engaging to help African entrepreneurs scale.”
Jihane Ajijti said the logistic system across the African market called for an overhaul, while advocating for fertilizer price subsidies and canvassing that the local agricultural value chain facilities should be revamped to boost local food production.
Samuel Dzotefe echoed Jihane’s view. He emphasized infrastructural upgrade of the transportation, communication and energy supply facilities available to African smallholder farmers.