The COVID-19 pandemic is more than an issue of public health. It is now abundantly clear the pandemic is affecting African societies and economies at all scales. For instance, it has been estimated that the pandemic will further push 140 million people across the globe into extreme poverty, 80 million of which will be Africans (Laborde et al., 2020). This development is worrying, as worsening climate conditions and difficult economic conditions are erasing recent improvements in sub-Saharan African rates of hunger and undernourishment, thus threatening the continent’s efforts to meet Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG2) of the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (U.N., 2019). With the coupling of the COVID-19 pandemic with these conditions, Africa’s myriad social and economic challenges can be expected to intensify in the near term. This brief considers specifically how small scale farmers might fare as a result of these happenings and posits the use of digital agipreneurship as a means for improving smallhold farmers’ livlihoods.
The price of food has increased in countries like Nigeria, Benin, and Chad following restrictive measures adopted to contain the coronavirus. Panic buying during the lockdowns and the hoarding of food by consumers partially explain these increases in food costs. The closure of national borders has, and will, limit the importation of foods both from within Africa and globally, further fueling price increases of foodstuffs not readily available locally. These conditions suggest that the food products of smallholder farmers – which make up the majority of food producers in Africa – will command higher prices, thereby advantaging these farmers.
However, these same restrictions on the flow of goods across borders and of people outside their homes and communities have negatively impacted businesses. For instance, in Myanmar, agricultural import retailers in May 2020 experienced disruptions in supply and demand, and incurred incremental increases in the prices of fertilizers, pesticides, and maize seeds following the COVID-19 transportation restrictions (Goeb et al., 2020). The more centralized, systemized, and specialized food production chains are, the larger are the impacts to it by unanticipated disruptions; such instances are more prevalent in highy developed nations such as the United States and Canada (e.g. Hobbs, 2020) and foreshadow reasons to avoid pursuing similar food production systems in developing nations.
Small-scale rural farmers in many cases live from hand to mouth. They sustain themselves and/or sell what little they produce to purchase other needs (school fees, medical care, other basic needs, etc.). Unmitigated yield reductions – whatever their cause(s) – quickly put smallhold farmers at risk of hunger, malnutrition, and/or deepened poverty. In Ghana, farmers sell directly to consumers. With Ghanian food markets closed, or operating under severe restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, smallholder farmers’ short- and long-term chances of survival are lessened. The characteristics and conditons of the current environment have rendered higher market values on agricultural products insufficient for ensuring the health and material welfare of African smallholder farmers for the foreseeable future.
A way foward
Most developed countries are adopting monetary policies aimed at reducing the negative social and economic impacts of COVID-19. Because developing countries may not have such capacities, creating, collecting, and relaying evidence-based knowledge amongst stakeholders may be the most effective tool available in African nations’ toolboxes for responding both to the emerging effects of COVID-19 and the extent crises of climage change and global economic challenges. This knowledge would include information on the most vulnerable, such as their geographic locations, local and changing climate and COVID-19 pandemic conditions, and their adaptation strategies and actions taken to mitigate these and other threats. Such data would be useful in making responsive, context-specific efforts of the sort the U.N. has determined will be necessary to achieve SDG2. These efforts include data collection, monitoring and implementation of climate smart agriculture practices, continued efforts through partnerships, blending climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction, and long-term financing to bridge humanitarian and development approaches (U.N., 2019). The wide distribution of such knowledge will be paramount to strengthening community resilience-building efforts during, and after, the COVID-19 pandemic. In-depth knowledge about the most vulnerable can, and should, inform the efforts of governments and other stakeholder bodies to effectively aid small-scale farmers now, through the covering of the costs of seeds, fertilizers, and other operational expenses on these smallholder farms for the next two growing seasons, at minimum and in the future, through more innovative means.
The use of digital technologies has the potential to further safeguard smallholder farmers during these abnormal times. Although literacy rate, levels of income, and limited internet coverage determine the use of the internet, the use of mobile phones as a mode of communication can be a powerful tool for relaying information to stakeholders, most especially rural farmers. African governments and other development bodies should therefore focus on mobile phones and the social media platforms utilized by agricultural extension officers and farmers as part of the greater effort and collaboration initiatives urged in the U.N.’s Africa Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition report (U.N., 2019). The growing literature on agripreneurship, defined loosely as generally sustainable, community oriented, directly marketed agriculture engaged in by entrepreneurs either locally or remotely (Carr and Roulin, 2016), evidences the promise that the concept offers to the people of Africa for solving the crises of climate change and of economic stagnation (regardless of its causes) as well as the growing need to improve rates of youth employment (e.g. Addo, 2018; Carr, 2015; Otache, 2017; Stevens, 2017; Umeh et al., 2020). Policy makers should encourage the growth of agripreneurship. Benefits can be realized from coupling existing digital infrastructures and their uses by agricultural actors to agripreneurial principles and strategies. Sub-Saharan African agricultural intervention programmes should therefore encourage a culture conducive to the implementation, use, and growth of ‘digital agripreneurship’ (e.g. Trendov et al. 2019).
To cite this article: Author, X. (2020). Smallholder African Farmers, COVID-19, and Digital Agripreneuship. In Goldcoast Sustainability Governance Institute’s Dialogues in Innovation and Sustainability Series, Vol. 1, edited by Wes Grooms.
Views herein expressed are of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the Goldcoast Sustainability Governance Institute.
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