African rural peoples demand greater social protection amid pandemic | #RuralVoicesMatter

Africa’s rural peoples’ organizations and their support networks are calling for urgent social protection and state support for smallholder farmers.

In the webinar “COVID-19 and Its Impact on Food Sovereignty in Africa,” participating organizations discussed how the pandemic’s impacts adversely affected the lives of smallholder farmers. It covered the situation of rural communities in North Africa, East and Central Africa, Southern Africa, and West Africa.

The webinar was organized by the People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty – Africa and was held 20 May 2020. Speakers include Hamza Hamouchene of the North African Network for Food Sovereignty (NANFS), Andrew Adem of Eastern & Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers’ Forum (ESAFF) Uganda, Joe Mzinga of ESAFF Secretariat, Wilfred Miga of Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM) Zambia, Yahya Msangi of Association Welfare, Fredrick Njehu of Greenpeace Africa, and Theodora Pius of MVIWATA. Gershom Kabaso of Zambia Social Forum and PCFS Africa coordinator moderated the webinar.

Sharing on COVID-19 impacts

According to the presenters, the Africa region is already suffering from an economic crisis prior pandemic. Hunger and malnutrition already plague many of its countries, and ecological issues such as the flooding in East Africa and locust outbreaks in West Africa further put the region in a more vulnerable situation. 

Across all regions, the movement restrictions imposed to curb the coronavirus spread devastated the livelihood of smallholder farmers. Food shortages and price hikes were the top impacts on food and agriculture, which bared the failure of relying on import dependence for domestic food security. 

These were expected to result in higher poverty and death rates. The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa has estimated about 300,000 deaths in Africa due to the pandemic.

In addition, there is a lack of cooperation among the countries to confront the pandemic. Border clashes – particularly between Rwanda and Tanzania, Tanzania and Uganda, and between Uganda and Kenya – have affected food supply chains. Conditionalities from international finance institutions such as the IMF-World Bank worsened the rift among these countries.

With the inaccessibility and poor state of social services worsened by the pandemic, smallholder farmers are subjected to more vulnerable conditions. In Tanzania, clean water is difficult to source in rural communities that regular hand washing, a basic precautionary measure against the coronavirus infection, is difficult for them to do.

The pandemic also disrupted the daily lives of the rural peoples in myriads of ways. In East and Central Africa, gender-based violence markedly increased as rural women are compelled to stay at home. 

Farmers’ organizations are also restricted to gather and conduct activities. Extension services were also limited, which contributed to the misinformation among smallholder farmers that made them ill-equipped to face the health crisis and its resulting impacts.

But among all these issues, the webinar participants highlighted how smallholder farmers are absent in the policymaking and implemented to address the pandemic. Governments never even consulted the sector, and there was little to no state support to help them face the crises.

Action points

One of the objectives of the webinar is for PCFS Africa to come up with suggestions for cooperation in response to these issues. 

The organizations agreed to lobby for the protection of smallholder farmers through state support and funding as well as their inclusion policymaking. They were also urged to campaign and lobby for the Nine Demands for Food and Rights to gather the widest support.

Aside from that, the organizations will continue their promotion of ecologically sound farming practices like agroecology, access to markets, as well as local demand. 

They will also probe how government loans and aid are being used and if they reach farmers.

The PCFS Africa Steering Council will be meeting to discuss the lessons from this webinar and the follow-up actions for the region, including the regionalization of the Nine Demands. ###

Written by Gail Orduña, PCFS Global Secretariat staff.

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