FAO Regional Office for Africa

Bouncing back

With the help of Conservation Agriculture, Southern Africa can come back stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic

Photo: Conservation Farming Unit

The theme of this year’s World Food Day – Grow, Nourish, Sustain. Together – stands out at a time in which Southern Africa has been left reeling by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

In an op-ed on the occasion of FAO’s 75th anniversary, FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu today said, “The UN’s food agency was born in the wake of catastrophe. Three-quarters of a century later, its mission has been made more relevant to the world at large by another global scourge.”

Even before COVID-19 hit the globe earlier this year, almost 45 million people in Southern Africa were food insecure according to the Southern African Development Community's 2020 Regional Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis.

While widespread lockdown measures have been instrumental in containing the virus across much of the region, in some cases their impacts on livelihoods and social wellbeing has been severe. Restrictions have affected the availability of and access to food by restricting food supply chains, consumer spending and purchasing power. And in many instances it is the poor and vulnerable in the region – those who depend on daily jobs or informal trade – that have been hardest hit.

Lesotho, for example, has been suffering more than most: the number of those food insecure is predicted to have jumped to 899 287 – or 43 percent of the population – from around 500,000 in 2019.

In Zimbabwe, the COVID‑19 lockdown has affected most urban households, and there are worries that increases in food insecurity could be seen among those who depend on petty trade, vending, casual labour, skilled trade and small‑scale businesses owing to trading restrictions during the lockdown period.

In Eswatini, around 14 percent of the urban population and 37 percent of the rural population will likely face crisis or worse (IPC Phase 3 or above) levels of food insecurity during the lean season from October 2020 to March 2021, owing to a lack of income‑generating opportunities during the COVID‑19 pandemic.

To feed themselves during this period, many households in Southern Africa are turning to agriculture to meet their food and nutrition needs and sustain their livelihoods. However, agricultural performance and output must improve if it is to effectively absorb the shock of shrinking remittances and lost jobs.

FAO’s COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme will certainly help to plug the threat of chronic hunger that 130 million people are facing globally by the end of the year. In the long term though, farmers need to become more resilient to shocks.

For Southern Africa, Conservation Agriculture (CA) could play a pivotal role in boosting food security. On-farm evidence has proven its ability to sustainably manage resources, and increase yields and crop resilience during periods of drought. Conservation Agriculture has models that suit all categories of farmers from the subsistence to the highly-mechanized. Despite this, however, uptake in the region remains low.

Through initiatives such as the project Strengthening coordination, scaling up and governance of Conservation Agriculture in Southern Africa, FAO is working with its partners to increase collaboration in the region for the purpose of scaling up CA. In the face of not only the COVID-19 pandemic, but also the rapidly changing climate in the region, it is fundamental that farmers are encouraged to adopt more resilient and efficient production systems such as CA. Partnerships are key to this and can contribute to helping farmers secure their livelihoods and increase their food and nutrition security.

Pulling in the same direction together, as the World Food Day theme reminds us, is going to be increasingly important, especially in Southern Africa, where farmers must also adapt to a changing climate.

Read about recently-launched initiatives to scale up the adoption of CA in Malawi and Zimbabwe.