• In the midst of the latest merry-go-round with China, once more foreign aid takes centre stage with a bouquet of loan offers, cancellations and grants concocted for the continent. This helps, but is far from the answer to our medium- and long-term development goals. The answer lies with fairer trade and with the continent looking within itself for products and markets. 

  • Sub-Saharan Africa has only slowly tackled problems of undernourishment and moved toward food security, although the outlook varies widely from country to country. The region is already dependent on grain imports to feed its people, and population growth means the challenge of feeding itself in the coming decades is immense. Climate change likely will make it even more difficult. Innovation and research and making sure that farmers have access to the fruits of that innovation and research, are vital. 

  • The agricultural sector is the world’s largest single employer. It provides jobs for more than 40% of the global population. It’s also the largest source of income and jobs for poor, rural households.

  • It is year-end and therefore an appropriate time to reflect on the African continent’s agricultural performance, particularly grains and oilseeds which are staple foods, and key inputs in the animal feed sector. The 2018/19 production season has been confronted by unfavourable weather conditions in the sub-Saharan region which has negatively affected the planting activity and growing conditions of crops and, by extension, the continent expected harvest. The International Grains Council (IGC) forecasts Africa’s 2018/19 grains production at 154 million tonnes, down by a percentage point from the previous season (Figure 1). In this context, grains include maize, barley, wheat, sorghum and oats, while oilseeds refer to soybeans. The continent’s 2018/19 soybean production is estimated at 2.7 million tonnes, unchanged from the previous season. Although the import status differs across countries, the African continent will remain a net-importer of major grains and oilseeds such as wheat, maize, soybeans and rice in 2018/19.

     Africa’s 2018/19 wheat imports are estimated at 49 million tonnes, down by 6% from the previous season owing to anticipation for a slight uptick in production in countries such as Algeria, Morocco and South Africa, albeit the continent’s overall grain production expected to decline. Although volumes differ from the previous season, Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Sudan will remain Africa’s leading wheat importers in the 2018/19 season, collectively accounting for 74% of the continent’s wheat imports, according to data from the IGC. Africa is an important player in the global wheat market as it accounts for nearly a third of imports in 2018/19.

    The African continent’s 2018/19 maize imports are estimated at 22 million tonnes, which is slightly above the previous season’s harvest. The North African countries, namely, Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia are the key importers, accounting for 82% of the expected imports. Within the sub-Saharan region, the leading maize importers in 2018/19 are Kenya and Zimbabwe. In terms of soybeans, Africa’s soybean imports could amount to 4.6 million tonnes in the 2018/19 season, up by 12% year-on-year. About 78% could be imported by Egypt and the rest spread across the continent. In addition, Africa’s 2018/19 rice imports could amount to 19 million tonnes, up by 12% from the previous season. Benin, Côte d'Ivoire, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Ghana and Mozambique will remain the key importers.

    Domestic focus – maize trade; rice market; crop conditions and weather prospects
    What role can South Africa play in the continent’s maize market.
    While some countries on the continent will have tight maize supplies, South Africa is one of the few countries which could remain a net exporter in the 2018/19 marketing year which ends in April 2019. South Africa has thus far exported 1.6 million tonnes of maize, which equates to 73% of the seasonal export forecast of 2.2 million tonnes . But there have not been any exports to Africa’s leading maize importers (Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Kenya and Zimbabwe) in the 2018/19 marketing year. A large share of maize was exported to Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, Italy and BNLS (Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland) countries. If there are any exports in the coming months, it will probably be to Zimbabwe. In markets such as Kenya, South Africa’s presence could be limited partly due to restrictions on the importation of genetically modified maize and competition from Mexico, Uganda and Ukraine. More than 80% of South Africa’s maize production is now genetically modified. Also, we do not foresee maize exports to Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia as these countries typically import maize from Ukraine, Argentina, Brazil, Romania and the United States, which all currently have sufficient supplies for exports.

    SA rice market
    South Africa accounts for 6% of the expected 19 million tonnes of rice imports into Africa in the 2018/19 season. This is about 1.1 million tonnes, up by 10% from the previous season driven by an uptick in consumption . In the first three quarters of this year, about 704 718 tonnes had already reached the South African shores. About 92% of this originated from Thailand and India, and the rest from Italy, Pakistan, Vietnam and Brazil, amongst other suppliers.

    Worth noting is that South Africa does not have a conducive climate for rice production and therefore the country imports all of its rice consumption. The imported rice typically includes; paddy, brown, semi-milled, and broken rice. Similar to what is transpiring this year, in 2017, about 77% of rice was imported from Thailand, with 17% from India and the rest form the United States, China, Vietnam, Pakistan and Uruguay, amongst others. On average, about 101 854 tonnes or 10% of the imported rice every year is re-exported to the neighbouring countries, namely Swaziland, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Namibia and Zambia

    From a supply perspective, the global rice market is in good shape. The 2018/19 global rice production could reach a record 491 million tonnes, marginally up from the previous season, according to data from IGC. The key contributing countries to the expected increase are India, Vietnam, Thailand, United States, China, Bangladesh and the Philippines. These are same countries that supply to South Africa. The benefit of an uptick in global rice production is clear on prices which have softened in the recent months compared to the beginning of the year across all the aforementioned countries. This is all beneficial to rice importing countries such as South Africa.

    Current crop conditions
     Although this month started with an optimistic message from the South African Weather Service indicating a possibility of above-normal rainfall in the summer crop growing areas of the country between December 2018 and February 2019, most parts of the country are still dry. The expected rainfall last week did not materialise in most regions, thus planting activity has not progressed in the central and western parts of the country. It is only a few areas of the eastern Free State and Mpumalanga that received very light showers, with the highest being 11 millimetres in the Frankfort area.
    Therefore, planting has thus far largely advanced only in the eastern parts of South Africa which received higher rainfall at the beginning of the season. But these areas are not in good condition as the recent heat wave and drier weather conditions started negatively affecting newly planted crops. In terms of crop distribution, these are areas that predominantly produce yellow maize and soybeans. Meanwhile, the western regions of the country which largely produce white maize and sunflower seed have not seen progress in planting due to persistent drier weather conditions. The only crop that has been planted in these areas so far is cotton as it copes somewhat better with drier conditions compared maize, sunflower seeds and other crops.

    Nonetheless, the precipitation outlook for this month shows rainfall between 20 and 70 millimetres in the summer crop growing areas of South Africa.If this materialises, then the aforementioned production conditions

    Exports/Imports could change, although some areas are already outside the optimal planting window of most crops.

    We will closely monitor the developments on the weather front but must mention that the past few weeks’ predictions proved fruitless.
    Be that as it may, we have not changed our production expectations from what we reported a few weeks back . While the harvest is expected to be lower than the previous season in the case of maize and sunflower seed, South Africa’s supplies will still be at comfortable levels due to large stocks from the 2017/18 production season, and also the fact that the expected crop is higher than annual consumption in the case of maize.

    Between October and February, which is planting to pollination, the weather becomes an important factor in the South African grains and oilseeds market and, to some extent, amongst the major drivers of prices. This has been the case in the past few weeks, but the exchange rate fluctuation and developments in the global agricultural market also influenced the SAFEX market . Overall, while the activity will possibly slow in the market as the festive season approaches, the above-mentioned factors could remain the key drivers of SAFEX prices in the coming weeks. AGBIZ 

  • China is Africa’s biggest and strongest ally and in recent years has pumped millions of dollars into the continent, funding one mega project after another.

  • As the impacts of climate change and conflicts threaten progress towards addressing global hunger, we need to apply new thinking in agriculture. Agricultural innovation can strengthen the resilience of agri-food systems and offer adaptation strategies to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

  • Simple technical and scientific methods are already making a difference to farm yields and income in Africa, the bank’s president says.
    The African Development Bank (AfDB) today announced it is investing US$24 billion in African agriculture over the next 10 years, and called on global partners to join hands to lift one billion people worldwide out of hunger.

  • Being raised in a family where all income came from my mother’s farm is something hard to forget. My mother told me that farming is not easy, but if you have skills, tools and passion, farming will be easy and profitable.

    Even if I was quite small during that time, I do remember the efforts my mother used on our farm in order to get a pretty harvest. Potatoes, maize (corn) and beans were the main crops my mother used to cultivate.

    My school fees, school uniforms, school insurance, notebooks, pens, shoes and much more were coming from my mother’s harvest. She is the reason I am who I am today. Her dream was to see me in a position where I am helping the most vulnerable community in my village.

    I do remember being with her in her green farm while she was grabbing some weedy grasses so that our maize can grow well. It was a most beautiful time that I still am missing.

    As the days went on, my mother’s farm was no more producing the same harvest we used to get. Climate change, resistant pests and diseases have swept away all my mother’s harvest. Farming is no longer her option. What else she can do?

    Food instability, lack of money, joblessness and a struggle to pay health care Insurance are now the characteristics of my family. There are many other farm households out there also still struggling like my family. Agriculture is becoming harder than ever.

    Asking about the effects of fall armyworm, which has destroyed completely my family’s and neighbors’ maize and beans farms, is like asking someone who is bleeding if he /she has a wound. If you want to see the anger of maize and beans farmers, ask them about the history of fall armyworm in Rwanda between the years 2017-2018. My advice: don’t ask.

    Jean Claude Habimana in his mother’s corn field in Rwanda when the harvests were still good.
    My neighbor who used to cultivate banana can testify about the bad experience of banana bacteria wilt. The mountains I used to see filled with green banana are now either empty due to banana bacteria wilt or replaced with other crops.

    In my home country, Rwanda, “banana is symbol of richness.” Over 70 percent of Rwandans in the eastern part of the country consume banana foods three times per day, and over 80 percent depend on the added value of banana, selling beer, juice or fruits to generate money.

    Beyond fall armyworm and banana bacteria wilt, the cassava mosaic virus arrived in the southern part of Rwanda in about 2015 and has left hundreds of thousands in loss. In the south, cassava was and still is the main crop that generates food and money. But cankers, leaf spot and cassava bacterial blight are still demolishing hundreds of hectares of the crop.

    You and I, maybe we can’t feel the same pain a farmer feels when he/she cultivates certain acres with a loan from the bank or microfinance and unfortunately, the pests come and destroy all. Who is going to pay back the loan? Where is food going to come from? Health insurance? School fees? Money? Our farmers whom we are relying on for survival are suffering more than any other person in this world.

    In the western part of Rwanda, where farmers grow potatoes, bees have been greatly reduced and bee farmers have already closed their hives or moved them to some other part of the country. Due to the overuse of pesticides, conserving biodiversity is another big challenge.

    It was confirmed that overuse of pesticides not only kills insects, including bees and ants, and some birds, but also destroys the life of people, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Imagine the lungs of those people who are using extra pesticides day to day to save their crops. Meanwhile, they are demolishing not only themselves but also biodiversity in general.

    It has taken me almost four years to realize that science can provide a longtime solution rather than pesticides. For decades, scientists have researched improved seeds with the ability to resist climate change (drought), use less pesticides, increase yields and save the planet. They have come up with a solution — mainly, genetically modified (GM) crops — that have the capability to save the world.

    Hundreds of research projects were undertaken by professional entities on risks that may occur when human beings and animals consume GM crops, or the impacts on nature when they are planted in the environment. Among them are the World Health Organization, United Nations Environment Progam, World Food Program, University of Pretoria, University of Nigeria, Cornell University, California University at Davis and Harvard Business School, to list a few. Millions of US dollars were sent out to many countries around the world to undertake risk assessment. But ultimately, not one entity has shown any risk to humans or animals that consumed GMOs or any negative side of releasing GMOs in the environment.

    The results from the above entities have led many African countries to adopt GM crops. For example, South Africa has been growing insect-resistant Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) corn since 1996 and today the country also has Bt cotton and soybeans. In over 20 years, no UN agency has ever shown any risk in consuming Bt maize or soybeans in South Africa.

    Today, Bangladesh is the country that can give you testimonies on how Bt brinjal (eggplant) has lifted up thousands of Bangladeshis from poverty and food instability to the level of food security and a six-fold increase in incomes. The country adopted this technology after many farmers suffered crop losses due to climate change and pests.

    Due to the special interests of certain people, especially those in the pesticide industries, GM crops have been misrepresented, leading to bad assumptions among the public. Truthfully, the pesticide companies know the potential of GM crops and they are afraid of it. To limit the general public from adopting these agricultural technologies, “paid people” are coming up every day and they call themselves ACTIVISTS.

    Their objective and goals are to mislead people. They don’t want to hear the tears and struggles of our mothers, sisters and brothers who are suffering night and day due to food instability, pests and plant diseases. They are outside just making noise and misleading the world while getting paid, quite possibly by the pesticide companies.

    If South Africa, Sudan, America, China, India, Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina and Australia and many other countries have used GM crops to secure their food supply and generate billions of dollars from exports, and no study has ever scientifically shown or been published that describes any risk from consuming GMOs, what are the African countries waiting for? Please hear the evidence from scientists, see the tears and agony of our farmers and then make the right decision that benefits our farmers.

    Jean Claude Habimana is a science and agriculture communicator, founder of Rwanda Environment and Agriculture Communications and a 2019 Cornell Alliance for Science Global Leadership Fellow.

  • The organisers of the African Real Estate & Infrastructure Summit have announced the gold sponsorship of Utility Systems, an industry leader in the field of remote communicating electronic water control valves and STS prepayment devices. The opportunities and challenges in the South African property sector, from commercial to residential, will be in focus at the summit that returns to Sandton from 11-12 October. 

  • Fighting fall armyworm requires global efforts as the pest could spread to more countries, warn scientists.

    Within the past two years, fall armyworm has spread to 44 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, threatening the food security of about 200 million people who depend on maize as a staple food crop, experts say.

  • More wealth leaves Africa every year than enters it – by more than $40bn (£31bn) – according to research that challenges “misleading” perceptions of foreign aid.

  • South African agribusinesses aiming to expand their operations into the rest of the continent in the coming years will face different environments compared to realities in South Africa. This includes the commonly cited factor of poor infrastructure, and also a much less talked about problem, which is low levels of agricultural productivity. With respect to the latter, a recent study by agricultural economists Thomas Jayne and Pedro Sanchez argued that sub-Saharan Africa’s agricultural output growth in the recent past has been through area expansion rather than improvement in productivity or yield per hectare.   A case in point is maize, which shows a striking difference in yield levels between South Africa and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. Consider maize yields between 2015 and 2020 in Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Kenya, Malawi and Tanzania, which averaged 2 tonnes per hectares for most of these countries with the exception of Zimbabwe, where the yields averaged one tonne per hectare over the observed period. By contrast, South Africa’s maize yields averaged 5 tonnes per hectare over the observed period as illustrated in Exhibit 1 (in the attached file).

    One of the reasons for this difference in yield levels is the difference in input use between South Africa and most countries in the continent. South Africa has an advanced and highly mechanized largescale commercial farming sector, which has easy access to fertilizers, improved seed varieties, agrochemicals. By contrast, most sub-Saharan African countries are dominated by micro, small and medium-scale farmers – a majority of whom are resource poor and lack access to fertilizers and hybrid seeds.  Intensive maize production systems typically require relatively higher input costs, which, with a lack of access to credit and finance, limits small-scale farmers’ uptake of these technologies. Another point to consider is that in countries such as Zimbabwe, smallholder farmers tend to limit the area planted to food crops in favour of tobacco and other lucrative crops in various seasons. Still, the point of lower productivity in food crops in sub-Saharan Africa remains. A 2019 study by McKinsey researchers made a similar point that Africa’s potential lies in improving the crop yields, and not land expansion, which has been the dominant practice in the recent past.

     Improving productivity should not be the only focus for sustained improvement in Africa’s agriculture. When farmers have improved their productivity, there must be a place to safely store their maize crop and reach the markets to ensure a decent return on investment. This once again is a dominant feature of the South African agricultural sector, where the value chains are mature and well-integrated, with access to markets that operated within a liberalized environment. Meanwhile, in much of the sub-Saharan African countries, the agricultural value chains are fragmented, and maize markets are subject to ad-hoc government interventions that distort market signals. Poor storage infrastructure has seen high post-harvest losses (ranging anywhere between 17% and 30% of total national maize output). Under conditions of such systemic market flaws, improved yields would not make a significant impact on markets. To some extent, Zimbabwean farmers tend to substitute maize for tobacco in certain seasons because the latter has a well-functioning marketing system than maize.

     In essence, sub-Saharan Africa’s agriculture sector remains underdeveloped and has various challenges. But these could also be viewed as opportunities for expansion by agribusinesses in countries that have fairly developed agricultural sectors, notwithstanding the infrastructure constraints already mentioned. If South African agribusinesses intend to expand their activities beyond the border in the continent, their strategies and approaches have to be markedly different. Productivity improving techniques are one part of the solution, but this will need a “ground-up” approach. This means working with farmers to understand value chains region by region within each country because of their fragmentation. This will enable various agro-dealers to be closer to their customers – farmers – and also aware of the off-takers or large buyers of the produce so that farming could be sustainable.

     Importantly, there is a need to lobby sub-Saharan African governments to prioritize network industries investments such as roads, electricity, water, and investment on agriculture infrastructure such as silos. With that said, this is unlikely in the near term because of fiscal constraints in a number of countries. Perhaps, a workable approach would be for African governments to be open to partnerships with private sector players. An important pre-requisite for creating public-private partnerships is a strict adherence to the rule of law so that private sector firms can be assured that their investment is protected, and that corruption is reduced. Notably, the African governments will also have to relax regulations that hinder the adoption of improved seed varieties which are crucial for productivity enhancement.

    In sum, the sub-Saharan Africa region holds potential for expansion for South African agribusinesses, but the approach to doing business will have to adapt to country-specific practices at the start. The South African model cannot be copied as is because of differences in farming and market structures, seed and food regulations, and network industries underdevelopment. This also means that the returns to investments in agriculture in the continent will likely be long term, and at the start, lower than what could be achieved in well-functioning agriculture markets. With that said, given the expected increase in population in the coming decade, rising urbanization, large, underutilised land in sub-Saharan Africa, and the increased connectedness through the African Continental Free Trade Area, collaboration and long-term investment in the continent will be key. The African governments should also improve infrastructure and land governance and the aforementioned regulatory matters to attract private sector investments into the content’s agricultural sector.         


    Weekly highlights


    SA’s summer crop production forecasts were left roughly unchanged in June 2021’s assessment


    Last week, the South African Crop Estimates Committee (CEC) released its fifth production estimates for the 2020/21 season, which left most crop estimates roughly unchanged from the previous assessment in May. This is with the exception of commercial maize, whose forecast was lifted marginally by 0,3% from the previous month to 16,2 million tonnes. Meanwhile, the non-commercial maize saw a much larger revision of an 8% increase from the previous month to 586 650 tonnes. This placed South Africa’s overall maize production for the 2020/21 season at 16,8 million tonnes. This is up by 6% from the 2019/20 production season, and the second-largest harvest on record. Moreover, the groundnuts production estimate was also lifted by 2% from May to 58 900 tonnes (up 18% y/y).


    Soybean’s production estimate was left unchanged at a record 1,9 million tonnes (up 54% y/y), sorghum at 195 035 tonnes (up 23% y/y) and dry beans at 56 577 tonnes (down 13% y/y). Whereas the sunflower seed is the only crop that was lowered from the May assessment, down by 5%, and currently estimated at 677 240 tonnes. This is down by 14% from the 2019/20 production season.


    The broadly large summer grain and oilseeds production estimate this season is on the back of increased area plantings for summer crops and favourable rainfall since the start of the season. The harvesting process is at completion stages for oilseeds, with maize in full swing. We continue to receive reports of generally higher yields across the country from farmers.


    If we focus on the major grains, the current maize production data essentially means South Africa would remain a net exporter in the 2021/22 marketing year. South Africa's annual maize consumption is roughly 11,5 million tonnes, which means there will likely be over 2,8 million tonnes of maize available for export markets, all else being equal (the official estimates, however, are that exports could amount to 2,6 million tonnes in 2021/22 marketing year, down 10% y/y because of expected weak demand in the Southern Africa region). Importantly, the increased soybeans production also means there could be a decline in soybean oilcake imports, which in a typical year is just under half a million tonnes a year.


    These developments, however, will have minimal impact on prices. South Africa’s maize prices are at relatively higher levels compared to the previous year, not because of supply constraints in the domestic market, but the surge in global maize prices. South Africa has its second-largest grains harvest on record, and maize prices are at export parity levels. The second-largest maize harvest on record in the 2020/21 production season has not led to a decline in domestic maize prices. This is mainly because of the 56% increase in export parity prices in the 2020/21 production season. Export parity prices are derived from the global maize price multiplied by the exchange rate minus transaction costs and can be regarded as a "floor price" for domestic maize prices. As domestic prices trade closer to export parity levels, South African maize becomes more competitive in international export markets, triggering an increase in volumes of exports or demand by foreign buyers.


    An important point to emphasize is that the global grains prices have rallied, reaching multi-year highs in the past few months because of supply concerns. Such concerns include the consistent downward revision of Brazil and Argentina's maize and soybean harvest because of dryness there and the drier weather conditions in Russia, Ukraine, and the United States at the start of the 2021/22 production season. The production conditions have since improved in Russia, Ukraine, and the United States, pointing to a reasonably good crop this season.


     Perhaps, the central point to make here is that while production conditions for the 2021/22 global harvest are promising for all major crops, there are generally lower stocks. The lower stocks are a catalyst for the knee-jack reactions we have observed on prices whenever there is news of unfavourable weather conditions in major grains and oilseeds production countries. Such price fluctuations happen even if the weather-related news has minimal impact on actual crop conditions. These fluctuations tend to influence also the South African market; hence the prices haven’t softened in the face of a large domestic harvest.


    A similar phenomenon is true for soybeans regardless of the recent uptick in domestic production. A key point on the global soybeans market is also the rising demand by China and also a potential increase in renewables energy users, which too is contributing to an increase in global prices. In sum, the domestic market is awash with grains supplies, but the prices are unlikely to ease notably. The guiding point for local prices is not what is happening in the fields domestically, instead it is the global events.


    Data releases this week


    We start the week with the US Crop Progress Report on the global agricultural data calendar, which will be released by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Tuesday. The previous report of 27 June 2021 showed that 73% of the US maize crop was rated good/excellent, well above the corresponding period last year where roughly 65% of the crop had such a rating. In soybeans, planting was also completed, with 96% of the crop having emerged. Importantly, 71% of the crop that has emerged was rated good/excellent, compared with 60% in the corresponding period last season. The US Weekly Export Sales data is due for release, also by the USDA, on Friday.


    On the domestic front, on Wednesday, SAGIS will release the Weekly Grain Producer Deliveries data for 2 July 2021. This data cover summer and winter crops, although we only focus on summer crops for now where harvesting is at completion. To recap, on 25 June, about 4 490 tonnes of soybeans were delivered to commercial silos. This placed the soybean producer deliveries for seventeen weeks of the 2021/22 marketing year at 1,79 million tonnes, which equals 93% of the expected harvest of 1,92 million tonnes. Moreover, 525 911 tonnes of sunflower seed for the 2021/22 season had already been delivered to commercial silos in the same week, out of the expected crop of 677 240 tonnes. In maize, the marketing year is different from oilseeds; we are still in the seventh week of the 2021/22 marketing year, which began at the start of May. The producer deliveries currently amount to 8,6 million tonnes, which equates to 53% of the expected crop of 16,2 million tonnes.


     On Thursday, SAGIS will release the Weekly Grain Trade data for the week of 2 July 2021. In the week of 25 June, which was the eighth week of South Africa's 2021/22 maize marketing year, total maize exports amounted to 605 023 tonnes. The seasonal export forecast is 2,6 million tonnes, slightly below the previous season because of an anticipated decline in regional demand. In terms of wheat, South Africa is a net importer. On 25 June, imports amounted to 1,2 million tonnes, equating to 75% of the seasonal import forecast of 1,6 million tonnes.


  • With the agricultural sector seen as an epicentre of growth and development across the African continent, many (myself included) have argued that the sector needs to attract young talent in order to maximise its potential.

  • Sub-Saharan African economies are still recovering from the slowdown in 2015-16, but growth is slower than expected, according to the October 2018 issue of Africa’s Pulse, the bi-annual analysis of the state of African economies by the World Bank. The average growth rate in the region is estimated at 2.7 percent in 2018, which represents a slight increase from 2.3 percent in 2017. 

  • Agricultural technologies could help to obviate the effects of climate change and ensure the planet’s population growth doesn’t lead to a global hunger epidemic. 

  • Since its emergence more than two years ago, COVID-19 has reached nearly every corner of the globe. It has infected hundreds of millions of people, and overwhelmed health systems worldwide. But its impact goes beyond its direct health consequences.

    Measures to contain its spread – such as travel restrictions and lockdowns – have also had severe consequences for economies and food systems worldwide.

    Despite the global impact, the consequences of pandemic-related restrictions vary widely among individuals. In the West, massive stimulus spending has helped ease the economic burden of the lockdowns. In low and middle-income countries, steep drops in employment and income have rivalled or exceeded those in richer nations.

    But most people in poor countries have received no financial support and have few or no savings to fall back on.

    Research shows that a disproportionate burden of pandemic-related restrictions has fallen on the world’s poorest. This has raised the question of how to best adapt the mitigation efforts to different types of economies.

    My colleagues and I sought to shed light on this issue. Our research examined the impact of pandemic restrictions on smallholder farmers in low and middle-income countries.

    In line with existing research on the negative impacts of pandemic restrictions, farmers in low and middle income countries reported that COVID-19 measures negatively affected food purchase, income generation and access to inputs.

    Food security
    The focus on smallholder farmers is pertinent. This group contributes most of the food production in many countries. They are also vulnerable to food insecurity and poverty.

    We conducted more than 9,000 interviews with smallholder farmers from Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Vietnam and Zambia. The seven countries reflect the diversity of COVID-19 containment measures, and all rely heavily on smallholders for food supply.

    The containment measures ranged from no restrictions in Burundi and Tanzania, to closures of public spaces, mandatory quarantines, and travel restrictions in Rwanda and Vietnam. This diversity allowed us to assess how the severity of COVID-19 restrictions affected smallholder farmers’ livelihoods and food security.

    Our findings also indicate that the severity of these impacts was directly related to the stringency of the measures.

    For countries with the strictest control, up to 80% of smallholder households reported major disruptions, largely in their ability to purchase food due to high prices and closed markets.

    Under stringent regulations, most smallholders also reported income reductions averaging 50%. The drop was due to few work opportunities, low prices for agricultural goods, and difficulty in accessing markets. This affected households with off-farm and on-farm incomes alike.

       Potential hunger crisis looms- World

    In contrast, negative economic and food security outcomes were less frequent and less severe in locations with relaxed measures. Only around 20% of smallholders reported negative outcomes in Burundi and Tanzania. This supports the growing connection between stringent restrictions and rising poverty and food insecurity in vulnerable areas.

    Government support
    Reports of lost income and difficulty in purchasing food are not unique to smallholder farmers in low and middle-income countries. People around the world have either lost jobs or seen empty grocery store shelves when the pandemic first hit.

    What separates the experience of smallholder farmers of poor countries from their counterparts in the West is government aid, and the resulting coping tactics.

    The overwhelming majority of farmers we interviewed said they had received no official aid. Unable to turn to their government for support, up to 80% of smallholder farmers in areas under stringent control were forced to reduce their food consumption. Other coping methods included the sale of livestock, unplanned crop sale, drawing down of savings and taking risky loans.

    These findings have profound implications because coping methods reduce the buffering capacity of smallholder households and make them vulnerable to future shocks. In many poor smallholder households, coping ways likely forced them into deprivation.

    Overall, our results draw further attention to the policy choice between lives and livelihoods. It reveals an almost impossible trade-off between saving lives from the pandemic and losing lives due to deprivation.

    Our findings are supported by recent economic analyses showing that the cost-benefit ratio of COVID-19 measures can differ significantly by country. The optimal lockdown is likely to be less stringent in low and middle-income countries seeking to prevent deprivation.

    Researchers are not the only ones catching on to this. A recent media analysis of how the pandemic was discussed in five African countries shows that popular media recognised the food insecurity impacts long before many of the scientific studies had been published. Popular narratives framed the situation as a balance between virus containment and food security. This eventually influenced governments to adapt official policy responses and loosen restrictions.

    In other words, the world is slowly coming to the realisation that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the COVID-19 pandemic. Research shows that stringent measures can successfully prevent excess deaths. But if these measures are introduced in poor countries without the requisite financial assistance, they can undermine the health of the very people they intended to protect.

    What works for poor countries
    Therefore, the suitability of any crisis mitigation depends on the needs of local populations as well as the capacity of local government to support them.

    Crisis mitigation must guard against the exhaustion of buffering capacity in vulnerable households. Potential policy measures to ensure this include tiered mobility restrictions that allow travel for economic reasons, short-term price guarantees to stabilise the food system, and direct aid to rural households.

    As governments fight this pandemic and prepare for future crises, they can no longer shy away from thinking through the trade-offs between restrictions and well-being. When COVID-19 struck, we were not prepared to make informed decisions about the trade-offs. The world’s poorest have borne the brunt of the consequences.

    Our latest study is part of a growing body of research that provide tools we need to confront these trade-offs. By considering costs and benefits to local populations, policymakers can craft measures that save lives and protect livelihoods of the most vulnerable.

  • Millions of small-scale farmers face significant challenges, including food and water insecurity, dependence on unpredictable rain, and increasing frequency of natural disasters.

  • Size of land owned by women in Africa is 20 to 70 per cent less than that owned by men. Female households (households without male adult) have 45 per cent less land on an average. In fact, 25.2 per cent of female, as compared with 23.7 per cent of male, are food insecure in sub-Saharan Africa.

  • Africa’s agricultural productivity has long lagged behind the rest of the world. Crop yields grew across Asia from 1960 onwards, lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty, but stagnated in Africa where cereal yields stayed largely unchanged for the 30 years of the green revolution.

  • When it comes to global food security and the development of smallholder farmers, we live in an era of lessons learned. Never before have we understood as much about what does work and what does not.