Africa’s agriculture can thrive despite the effects of the pandemic


The COVID-19 pandemic complicated Africa’s food and employment situation leading to increased hunger, income losses and shattered livelihoods. Nigeria, for example, reported that up to 56 percent of its urban population stopped working less than one year after the pandemic reached the continent. This was over 40 million Africans over and above the 256 million within the continent who required food assistance over the same period. 

Yet while the impact of the disease has been devastating, it has also helped draw attention to the gaps that must be sealed for recovery and future resilience. On this path, agriculture is Africa’s best bet to steer the strategies that would lead the continent away from food insecurity, joblessness and poverty. In fact, with proper support, the sector, which accounts for at least 23 percent of Africa’s GDP, is projected to play a critical role in the reduction of undernourishment in Africa from 17 percent of the population in 2015 to 12 percent in 2025, according to the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). All this can be achieved while creating many new jobs on and off the farm. 

However, these benefits can only be gained through innovative investments across the different agricultural and food value chains. At the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), we have witnessed tremendous gains by supporting technologies in seed development, soil health, inclusive finance, farmer education and market access.  Our investments in the integration of digital solutions for input distribution, agricultural extension, and mechanization, for example, proved timely during the lockdowns. Indeed, it is during the 2020 pandemic that we saw the unveiling in Nigeria of SEEDCODEX, a digital platform for the verification of seed authenticity. The USSD-based system is now shielding millions of farmers from unscrupulous traders, who would have exploited the distribution difficulties linked to broken supply networks during lockdown to sell fake or sub-standard seeds. 

Furthermore, we have witnessed the importance of innovative approaches in the delivery of extension services. By training and equipping local-based, self-employed extension service providers (or Village-Based Advisors, VBAs), the extension worker to farmer ratio in AGRA regions has reduced from 1:3000 to 1:900 against a target of 1:750. This improvement helped AGRA reach over 10.1 million farmers between 2018 and 2020 with 7.6 million adopting modern farm technologies for increased yields.

Similarly, we are seeing women agricultural entrepreneurs gain access to technical capabilities, markets and finance through digital innovations like the Value4Her, an agribusiness intelligence platform by AGRA and partners. Now with a membership of over 800 businesses each with an annual turnover of between US$20,000 and US$100,000, Value4Her has been instrumental in the survival of enterprises like Namibia’s Zaveda fisheries. Zaveda remained afloat after transferring its marketing activities to online spaces following an 80 percent loss of revenue after COVID-19 struck. The company’s proprietor, Eva Ndamono Shitaatala, attributes the strategic shift to knowledge gained from her Value4Her networks. 

There are many other examples that I could enumerate as an AGRA insider – one with a front-row view of the developmental activities happening around the agricultural sector. But it is also important to recognize that AGRA is just one of several members in a circle of influence that can transform the prospects for Africa’s farmers through integrated actions. The others are policymakers, political leaders, researchers, innovators and private sector players, all of whom are called upon to prioritise investments that create an enabling environment for scaling agricultural technologies. 

COVID-19 forced us to face up to the reality that we must build resilience in the agriculture sector, whether in response to climate change or other hazards. Let us look beyond the pandemic as a momentary setback, and think about how we can use innovation to build resilience for farmers, communities, the private sector, and governments.  

Written by Dr. Apollos Nwafor

Vice President, Policy and State Capability, AGRA