FAO Regional Office for Africa

Private and development sectors to support Africa’s food systems amid COVID-19

FAO & AGRA host a private sector roundtable on COVID-19

24 April 2020, Accra – The private sector and development partners are vital in mitigating the impacts of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) on food supply chains in Africa. That was the key message at a virtual roundtable convened by FAO and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) that brought together participants from the private sector, industry associations,  farmer organizations and private industry and development partners,. hosted by the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF).

“We must continue the dialogue, provide policy advice, and advocate for solutions and support to keep the food value chain alive in Africa during and post COVID-19,” affirmed Ade Freeman, FAO Regional Programme Leader for Africa.

Responsibility and business opportunities for the private sector

Agnes Kalibata, President of AGRA and UN Special Envoy for the 2021 Food Systems Summit, encouraged the private sector to step up, despite the challenging conditions due to COVID-19. She underscored the considerable responsibility and business opportunities available by aggregating and storing crops from smallholder farmers to reduce post-harvest loss as harvesting in several southern and eastern countries has begun. She also highlighted the importance of ensuring smallholder farmers and small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) can access agricultural inputs and financial and digital services as planting in Western Africa will begin soon.

Bottlenecks in the food supply chain

Private sector participants, from small businesses to multinational companies,  explored how COVID-19 is impacting food supply chains, especially logistics bottlenecks in domestic, intra-regional and international trade. For example, additional checkpoints and mandatory spot testing for drivers have increased the cost and time for transport and logistics. A major concern that arose was the increase in post-harvest losses. “We are working with our supply chain through outreach and extension workers to maintain and enhance local sourcing, including daily perishables, from smallholder farmers,” said John Bee, Nestle’s Regional Head, Regulatory and Scientific Affairs, Sub-Saharan Africa.

Modularity Grid, a digital technology company, also stressed the importance of making pertinent information available to concerned parties through combining satellite data and electronic distribution portals such as cell phones.

Private sector participants reiterated the need to ensure that all agricultural inputs, such as fertilizer, are exempt from lockdown restrictions. Delays in the movement of these resources could have a significant effect on the food supply chain of not only major companies but also for smallholder farmers who rely on them.

Providing financial and technical support

Development partners and financial institutions such as the African Development Bank (AfDB), International Financial Corporation (IFC), the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) reaffirmed their commitment to support Africa’s food systems. They encouraged private sector partners to collaborate in non-competitive spaces such as promoting food safety laboratories and storage facilities to ensure minimal disruptions in their supply chains. AfDB committed to providing technical and policy advice to governments to effectively use emergency finances provided by Multilateral Development Banks/International Financial Institutions.

The roundtable discussion also highlighted that there is a need for accurate assessments of food availability within the region and storage capacities.

FAO’s commitment to keeping food systems alive

In a region with over 200 million food-insecure people, it is essential to sure up the food supply chain to avoid exacerbating existing challenges and crises. FAO remains committed to working with development partners and the private sector to ensure that COVID-19 does not paralyze food systems in Africa.

The roundtable followed an FAO and AGRA public webinar on the same topic held on 22 April, and also a high-level dialogue with the African Union and the Member States held on 15 April.