African agriculture in the context of COVID-19: Finding salvation in the devil

Guy Blaise Nkamleu

The world is facing unprecedented challenges from COVID-19, which is disrupting lives and livelihoods. The pandemic could profoundly affect the African continent and wipe out hard-won development gains, as sub-Saharan Africa heads into its first recession in 25 years. Beyond the multi-spatial impact of the coronavirus in Africa, its effects on the agriculture and food system is of particular interest, as food security could be the most affected area and, at the same time, agriculture could be the sector that could help African economies recover quicker from the impact of COVID-19.
This paper supports the view that COVID-19, as devilish as it may be, offers an opportunity to revive interest in the agricultural sector. The COVID-19 pandemic has placed immense pressures on African countries to raise additional resources, and consequently Africa’s growing public debt is again coming back to the centre stage of the global debate. The conversation on African debt sustainability has begun to dominate the scene and will flood the debate in the near term. While the observed, growing calls for debt relief for African countries are legitimate, we support in this paper that one should not divert attention from the long-term solutions needed to strengthen Africa’s resilience. These long-term solutions lie where they always have: in agriculture. With COVID-19, shipping agricultural inputs and food products from other continents to Africa has become disrupted and is accelerating the trend towards shortening supply chains. This will leave a potential market for inputs and food produced on the continent. COVID-19, together with the launching of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), have aligned the stars in favour of a decisive transformation of the agriculture sector on the continent.
Agriculturalists and development experts need to be aware of their responsibility at this time, as they need to advocate for the topic of agricultural development to return to the centre and the heart of the agenda of discussions on how to respond to the consequences of Covid-19 in Africa. In this sense, and unexpectedly, COVID-19 is an opportunity for the agricultural sector.