Improved agricultural conditions would not fully compensate for job losses due to the pandemic, but it might cushion households from severe food insecurity that the World Bank's economists had feared the sub-Saharan Africa region would face from 2020, said the Agricultural Business Chamber(Agbiz)
Senior economist at Agbiz, Wandile Sihlobo said it was plausible that as the year continued and the harvest began from May 2021 in some African countries, rural households could be in a slightly better position in terms of staple grains availability and acute poverty levels than in 2020.
"When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, sub-Saharan Africa faced a potential rise in food insecurity, which was underpinned by the anticipated slowdown in economic activity, loss of income, and a ban on grain exports by major exporting countries such as India, Russia, Cambodia, and Vietnam had introduced,“ he said.
Sub-Saharan Africa is a net importer of food, with the World Bank having estimated that an additional 26 million people would fall into extreme poverty (defined as those living under US$1.90 per day in 2011 PPP) in 2020.
According to Agbiz, in mid-2020, the concern about trade restrictions had waned as the G20 discouraged global grain-exporting countries from banning exports.
Domestic evaluation of supplies by exporting countries provided comfort for sufficient food supplies in the world market.
The slowdown in economic activity played out as expected, with sub-Saharan Africa's economy contracting by 1.9 percent in 2020, according to estimates by the IMF.
Also, there were widespread job losses in the sub-Saharan Africa region, which resulted in a rise in food insecurity as initially feared at the start of the pandemic, especially in Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Malawi.
Sihlobo said various governments' responses to the rising food insecurity during the pandemic had primarily been through increasing grain imports, mainly in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, Nigeria and Malawi.
Some of these countries also rolled out farmer input support schemes to assist farmers ahead of the 2020/21 production season, which began from October 2020 for most countries.
The income support to households was limited to South Africa within the sub-Saharan region, but household food insecurity rose even there.
"Nevertheless, the interventions to support farmers with inputs could pay off in 2021, although concerns remain that corruption, poor farmer targeting and bureaucratic inefficiencies might have led to late input deliveries in some countries, as we have observed in previous farm input subsidies programmes,“ he said.
That said, most of the African continent, specifically southern and eastern regions, received higher rainfall during the 2020-21 summer. This had allowed for increased plantings and improved crop production conditions.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates already point to prospects of increased maize production in several southern and east Africa countries. For example, Zambia's 2020/21 maize production could reach 3,4 million tonnes (up 69 percent year-on-year, Malawi's maize harvest is estimated at 3,8 million tonnes (up 25 percent year-on-year), Mozambique's maize crop is estimated at 2,1 million tonnes (up 8 percent year-on-year, Kenya's maize harvest is forecast at 4,0 million tonnes (up 5 percent year-on-year) and Tanzania's maize harvest is estimated at 6,3 million tonnes (up 8 percent year-on-year). There were also prospects of large maize and wheat harvests in Zimbabwe.
Agbiz said that essentially, the rural areas of the sub-Saharan Africa region might experience an improvement in food availability in 2021 compared to 2020, but this was temporary and at the mercy of the weather and government support going into 2022.
Last week, Grain-SA said that for grain farmers in the North, fall was one of the busiest times of the year as they were working around the clock to harvest and transport their crops. Motorists in rural areas and small towns should expect to encounter large farm implements on the roads.
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