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COVID-19 and Agriculture in Africa: implications for Digitalisation

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Nurses on the frontlines against COVID-19 in Africa

© Anna Psiaki

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In January 2020, the COVID-19 outbreak which started in Wuhan - China was declared by the World Health Organisation as ‘pandemic’. Since that time, the COVID-19 pandemic has speedily spread across the world and caused significant impacts on many sectors of the economy globally. As of early August 2020, more than 800,000 cases and 13,779 deaths have been confirmed across 53 countries in Africa, with South Africa and Egypt being the hardest hit countries.

Beyond its severe impacts on public health, it affected considerably also the education, water and sanitation, agriculture sectors amongst many others. The consequences were and will be tougher in many developing countries whose population depend primarily on agriculture.

In Africa, agriculture being the backbone of many countries and contribute to 49 per cent of employment (ILO, 2020), confirms its importance to livelihoods of millions of people. Due to mobility restrictions, agriculture and the food systems in sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries have been seriously hit by the pandemic. Smallholder farmers are encountering numerous challenges including disruptions of food supply chains, unemployment, all increasing the risks of food insecurity now and in the future. In the eastern part of Africa, it has been a ‘’triple menace’’ as the pandemic’s impacts on food security and livelihoods of smallholder farmers, came to add on existing challenges such as flooding disasters and the invasion of pests like desert locusts and fall armyworm, which devastated agricultural production (UN, 2020).

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 820 million people worldwide did not have enough food (FAO et al., 2019). In June 2020, estimates show that the COVID-19 crisis could plunge 100 million people into extreme poverty (Mahler, Lakner, AGUILAR, et al., 2020), with SSA being the most affected region. The COVID-19 pandemic has therefore exposed the vulnerability risks of agricultural value chains against external shocks and shed light on the needs of building the resilience of the agricultural sector (IFAD, 2020c). Sub-Saharan Africa is projected to experience a significant disruption in the supply of agricultural inputs and food products, reduced demand, price volatility amongst many factors. The region’s economy will contract by -1.6 percent (the worst decline in the history for this region), partly due to disruptions in production and reductions of demand which emanated from strong containment and mitigation measures that were put in place by many countries (IMF. African Dept, 2020).

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