By Busani Bafana
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe (IDN) – Horticulture farmer Prosper Chikwara, grows cabbages, spinach and kale on the idyllic family farm, 20km north of the city of Bulawayo. Word of mouth is no longer enough to sell his produce.
He now grows on order because it no longer guaranteed there will be buyers at his gate when the crops are ready for harvest.
Six months ago, Chikwara, supplied 20 000 kg of vegetables to wholesalers in the city of Bulawayo. He is now selling less than half of his produce since the Covid-19 coronavirus lockdown was imposed.
“It has been difficult to market the produce that I have to deliver where my customers are currently located. I advertise my produce on a farmers’ online platform to attract buyers,” says Chikwara who switched from growing maize to vegetables using drip irrigation to cope with extreme climate conditions while boosting yields and income.
Chikwara’s predicament is a common thread. Smallholder farmers are battling for buyers after COVID-19 disrupted informal food markets, a major source of food for millions in urban areas. Farmers have to be market savvy and take note of change in the food production to consumers. It is not easy because the food system has gaps in terms of effective markets, access to inputs and viable markets, transportation and food loss and waste.
COVID-19 has turned a bad situation to worse. Smallholder farmers lost effective markets for their produce against increasingly difficult trading conditions and the impact of climate change on the production.
In a new assessment, in May 2020, the United Nation warned that the coronavirus pandemic could precipitate a “global food emergency”.
Marta Antonelli, Research Director of the Barilla Foundation, echoing the call for transforming global food systems, said the pandemic highlighted the fragility of current food systems in economic, environmental and social terms.
“COVID-19 has amplified poverty, inequalities and food insecurity,” Antonelli, said at the June 2020 launch of the ambitious roadmap for resetting food systems hit hard by climate change.
Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition Foundation Advisory Group, – representing multi-disciplinary experts has proposed 10 bold and interdisciplinary actions for transforming the food system from farm to fork.
Some of the actions include developing internationally agreed-upon standards for regenerative agricultural practices and agroecology and improving measurement of how the global food system is contributing to nutrient density. In addition, businesses are encouraged to focus on health and sustainability; digitizing food and agriculture information; identify the true cost of food and improving seed security diversity, and soil regeneration.
Transforming agriculture and food systems means redistributing land, labour and capital as well as inputs within a timeframe of a decade. This is according to the CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) in a report launched in June 2020 calling for global action to make food systems more resilient to both climate and non-climate shocks on the back of COVID-19.
“The impact of COVID-19 on food systems is significant,” Dhanush Dinesh, Global Policy Engagement Manager, at CCAFS told IDN, pointing that the pandemic has affected the production and distribution of food through disrupted input supplies and market and distribution networks.
Dinesh said the food system starts before the food is produced as it includes production; inputs to markets, consumption then nutrition, food waste and loss and environmental impacts.
“We have examples of parts of a food system, like in Ethiopia where they have had a huge transformation in terms of the agriculture production system and in Brazil, where they are doing different interventions to reduce deforestation and in Kenya farmers working together to share advisories,” Dinesh said.
CCAFS is working with the British government who has the presidency for COP26 next year to get countries to commit to transforming their innovation systems and to doing agriculture research differently, Dinesh said.
“The thinking around food systems transformation is that all these actions need to happen within the next decade. 2030 is the target for reaching the SDGs so it needs to be initiated now and implementation needs to be scaled out over the decade,” said Dinesh, noting that about $320 billion a year was needed for these actions to transform food systems.
Farmers like Chikwara have adopted sustainable farming methods that protect the environment while enabling them to grow healthy food to get a fair income.
A boon for agriculture trade
Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, co-Chair of the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture (GACSA) told IDN that the shutdown of borders prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the important role of imports and exports in maintaining adequate supplies of affordable, nutritious food.
The newly formed African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) could help in building resilience to climate change by stimulating investments in production and marketing infrastructure enabling farmers and food companies to supply consumers across the continent.
“Previously most of our smallholder farmers never tasted good prices because their market was local but imagine the opportunities with the playing field level and everybody accessing a neighboring country or region,” Sibanda said. She said the biggest impediment to buying local was the cost because of poor infrastructure and bad policies.
“Farmers are in agriculture for business and have problems paying for the inputs if they are not allowed to go into free markets, said Sibanda. “Using them on a landlord basis defeats the whole purpose of making farming a business and also helping them to increase their income.
According to the 2019 Africa Agriculture Trade Monitor, Africa’s food market is expected to be worth US$1 trillion by 2030 while intraregional trade is expected to increase through the African Continental Free Trade Area.
The Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth And Transformation for Shared Prosperity And Improved Livelihoods adopted by African Heads of State in 2014 calls for tripling intra-African trade in agricultural goods and services by 2025. Inter Africa trade is currently at about 18 percent compared to the Africa-Europe trade at 53 per cent.
COVID-19 will worsen a food crisis
COVID-19 affected trade routes when countries went into lockdown. Regional harmonization has ensured passage for food and vital health commodities but at an exorbitant price as the few eligible transporters raised prices.
“From the climate change and COVID-19 challenges, we can learn to improve productivity in a climate smart way, incentivize our farmers to adopt new technologies at affordable prices, make sure we have adequate supplies at affordable prices with adequate diversity to maintain nutritional requirements,” said Sibanda.
Farm to fork transformation
“We are looking at food 360 degree-wise from farm to fork, you are no longer looking at production and getting dealers to go and buy what they want from a farmer and then forward sale, you are looking at a massive system-wide shift that is facilitated by the latest technological tools for managing logistics,” said Sibanda.
Smallholders form the heart of our global food systems,” said Kanayo Nwanze, CGIAR Special Representative to the UN Food Systems Summit.
“It should be the starting point for transforming food systems in Africa,” Nwanze said noting that agriculture contributed more than 60 per cent of Africa’s GDP before the 1980s.
“Today the continent is a net food importer because it disinvested in agriculture to pursue industrialisation fuelled by mining and oil when more than 60 per cent of its people depend on agriculture for their livelihood,”
Farmers do not have all day to benefit from a transformed agriculture sector.
“Farmers have to innovate to make agriculture sustainable and profitable. We cannot wait for policies and incentives that will improve our markets, action must happen now as people need to eat every day,” said Chikwara. [IDN-InDepthNews – 21 September 2020]
Photo: Stabilising the global food system. Credit: Barilla Center.
IDN is Flagship Agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.