African farmers face difficult times ahead as they lose export market access amidst COVID-19 crisis

  • Millions of African smallholder farmers who grow fresh fruits & vegetables (FFV) for export have lost market access as flights are canceled and borders restricted around the world.
  • Morocco, Kenya, and South Africa are the most affected countries in Africa.
  • Global disruption of supply chains is also affecting the import of agricultural inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, and insecticides.

Millions of family farmers across Africa are facing economic devastation as COVID-19 pandemic disrupts exports Africa’s and global food supply chains.

This is according to a report – Impact of Coronavirus on Agriculture April 2020 by Selina Wamucii a company that sources for fresh farm produce from smallholder farmers and sells to both local and international vendors and distributors. It gives a most-recent and ground-up perspective on how the pandemic is affecting African farmers.

Avocados for export (Kilimo News)

According to John Oroko, CEO of Selina Wamucii, intra-Africa trade is around 2% while exports from Africa to the rest of the world range from 80% to 90% of total exports, of which a huge share is made up of agricultural produce.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has unfortunately come at a time when our farmers depend largely on exports to markets outside the continent and also before the commencement of trading under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) that was scheduled to commence on July 1, 2020, thereby creating a single continental market of more than 1.3 billion people. Now, unlike no other time, we can see a demonstration of why the success of the African Continental Free Trade Area will be directly linked to securing the livelihoods of African farmers in the future,” says Oroko.

“COVID–19 is severely disrupting trade in key markets for Africa’s agricultural produce and African farmers are bound to experience a nightmare in export market access,” adds Oroko.

African farmers are relatively elderly and 70% of Africa’s food is currently produced by women, who are also primary caregivers across many of Africa’s rural regions. This means therefore that a key segment of the farmers in the region is also at a higher risk of contracting COVID–19.

Morocco tops the list of African countries whose agricultural exports face the highest risk largely due to the country’s over-reliance on the European market given its close proximity and well-established traditional trading ties. In 2018, Morocco’s Fresh Fruits & Vegetables (FFV), fish, seafood and cut flowers, worth $3,024,724,000 was exported to the European Union, translating into over 78% of the FFV, fish, seafood and cut flowers worth $3,846,083 exported by Morocco to the rest of the world in that year.

Fresh mangoes at a market stall (Kilimo News)

Kenya’s agricultural exports also face a great risk mainly due to the over-reliance on fresh-cut flower exports, the bulk of which end up in the European Union. Additionally, over 50% of Kenya’s FFV exports and nuts go to the European Union and China, which are markets that have already been shaken up. In 2018, Kenya’s FFV and nut’ exports worth $223,113,000, out of the total $482,559,000 exported, went to European markets.

Before the COVID–19 pandemic, farmers in Kenya and other East Africa countries were already suffering severe locust invasion and now COVID–19 has worsened the situation. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned that a new wave of locust swarms are starting to form, representing an unprecedented threat to farmer livelihoods – specifically in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia.  As a result, farmers are facing a double catastrophe from the impact of COVID–19 and the locusts at the same time, a combination that will negatively affect their farm yields. While the agricultural production in South Africa has not been adversely affected by the Coronavirus pandemic, logistics and border restrictions are likely to affect South Africa’s agricultural exports. The country has closed 35 land borders and two seaports. Coupled with the fact that the county also has prohibited crew changes in all of its ports amidst a looming container shortage, the export volume is bound to go down especially for fish, seafood and fresh vegetables.

(Kilimo News)

According to the report, other African countries that will experience significant drops in the FFV, fish and seafood exports are, in order of the projected severity: Tunisia, Senegal, Cameroon, Uganda, Mauritania, Tanzania, and Egypt.

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