As with every other industry, Covid-19 has had a huge impact on the African agribusiness sector. The pandemic and associated lockdowns have greatly disrupted supply chains, while the economic downturn saw short-term falls in investment and trade volumes.
Moreover, the crisis is far from over, with a new wave of infections affecting Southern Africa in particular at time of writing. Yet for better or worse, the pandemic could also speed up many ongoing processes, such as the adoption of new crop strains and land use diversification, particularly into renewables.
There is no doubt that the pandemic has had a big impact on food production, and a succession of surveys and reports back up this point. Research by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification initiative shows that the crisis has reduced levels of food security and reduced the income of those farmers who sell their crops, such as cassava, yams and tomatoes, to African towns and cities.
Moreover, in Olam’s March survey of 3,432 farmers in 19 countries, over half of respondents reported that the pandemic had affected their income, production, food security and nutrition.
Changing government responses are also likely to have an effect on food supplies. The government of Uganda, for instance, provided people with emergency food supplies during the country’s first lockdown but during the second it has opted to provide payments to enable people to buy the basic foodstuffs they need, trusting that the market will be able to provide that food.
A poor security situation is always a challenge to food production and processing, so it is no surprise that the recent wave of looting and hijacking in South Africa, which was triggered by the arrest of its former president, Jacob Zuma, has affected food production and supply.
All sugar mills in KwaZulu-Natal were closed after sugar farms were attacked, destroying at least 300,000 tonnes of cane in the process. Attacks on trucks and road blockades have also affected the transportation of crops and food products around the country, resulting in many deliveries being spoiled.
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