East Africa sees locusts return
As Covid-19 cases continue to rise across Africa, East Africa is also facing a second wave of desert locusts that threatens to ruin new crops just a few months after initial swarms hit the region, where more than 20 million people are facing food insecurity (Fresh Plaza, 29 May). The February to May rainy season is the ideal time for farmers to plant crops, with harvesting anticipated from June to early July, which is precisely when the next swarm generation of locusts will be forming. The rains have been good this year, and the damp, humid conditions are perfect for locust eggs to hatch. A single swarm covering one square kilometre contains up to 80 million locusts. FAO estimates the number of locusts could increase another 20 times during this rainy season which could worsen the humanitarian situation. Despite restricted movement due to Covid-19, FAO is stepping up support to affected countries, working with national governments, farmers and agricultural producers to help contain the outbreak. “While lockdown is becoming a reality, people engaged in the fight against the upsurge are still allowed to conduct surveillance, and air and ground control operations,” said Cyril Ferrand, FAO’s Resilience Team Leader for East Africa. FAO is intensifying remote data collection through a network of partners, civil society, extension workers and grassroots organizations providing information from remote locations, especially in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and South Sudan.
One project aiming to find a solution to the loss of agricultural production due to the pandemic is focusing on solar drying (Commodafrica, 22 May). A partnership between French NGO Bolivia IntiSud Soleil (BISS) and a Beninese company is providing two women’s groups with solar dryers built locally by craftsmen along with training. A company will purchase the processed production and will package and market it. This project is supported by the French Development Agency (AFD) and the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME) within the framework “Innovative Solutions for Off-Grid Sustainable Energy Access”.
The Ministry of Agriculture has just launched the 2020/21 agricultural campaign with the aim of increasing agricultural production volumes in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic (Commodafrica, 25 May). Production targets are nearly 6 million tonnes (Mt) of cereals, 1.6 Mt of cash crops and 941,000 tonnes of other food crops. Inputs and agricultural equipment will be distributed to farmers via agri-Voucher.
Cameroon’s debt suspension has been accepted for a period of 8 months (May to December 2020) by seven members of the Paris Club (Belgium, France, Germany, Japan, Republic of Korea, Spain, Switzerland) (Investir au Cameroun, 22 May). This decision comes in addition to the International Monetary Fund’s decision to grant the Rapid Credit Facility to deal with Covid-19. The authorities have committed to devote these resources to spending to mitigate the health, economic and social impact of the pandemic.
The Presidential Council on progress in implementing the Economic, Social and Humanitarian Support Plan against Covid-19 is providing immediate support worth FCFA 150.8 billion (€230 million): FCFA 130 billion will be provided by the state, and the balance by technical and financial partners (Commodafrica, 25 May). This support should enable the agricultural sectors (cashew, cotton, oil palm, fruit and food crops) to cope with the financial consequences of the pandemic. Fruit crops will benefit from FCFA 10.5 billion and food crops (maize, cassava, plantain bananas, vegetables and market gardens) from FCFA 16.82 billion, to which will be added FCFA 4.4 billion for the marketing of products.
Ethiopia has imposed less severe controls on movement and other activities than many other countries – but restrictions are still having a significant economic impact, with the urban poor likely to be hit hardest. Researchers from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) report on a monthly phone survey of households in Addis Ababa on changes to their income, food expenditures and consumption under Covid-19 control measures (21 May). Initial data demonstrate that poorer households are taking a greater economic hit than those with higher incomes, and that dietary diversity has declined. Fewer households reported consuming fruits (declining from 81% to 60% of households), meat (65% to 54%) and dairy (56% to 45%). Households appear to be reducing food expenditure by substituting away from more nutrient-dense foods to cheaper, less-nutrient dense foods. The report states that the food security situation in Addis Ababa could sharply deteriorate in the coming weeks if disease transmission and social distancing measures continue, and suggests appropriate policy responses.
The Guinean farmers’ association Fédération des Paysans du Foutah-Djallo (FPFD) is encouraged by contacts from several international partners, including COLEACP (Africaguinee.com, 17 May). Following a report in April on difficulties faced by the potato sector since the closure of the borders, the association has been contacted by development partners including the Agence Française de Développement, CCFD-Terre Solidaire, GRET, the European Union and the IDB. In addition, on 15 May the president made new announcements regarding the health crisis and instructed the government to support the potato, pineapple and cashew nut sectors. And partner banks have announced willingness to review and reschedule credit. In Guinea, more than 50,000 tons of potatoes are threatened by the closure of borders, but these announcements are a source of hope for producers.
The Government of Kenya has launched a potato seed multiplication programme in six counties to address shortages (Fresh Plaza, 26 May). The new seeds, which have been produced by plant breeders at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO), will improve farmers’ access to certified potato seeds, which will mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on potato production. The two-year project intends to add 2500 tonnes of certified potato seeds into the national supply annually. Around 60 staff from Uasin Gishu, Elgeyo-Marakwet, Bomet, Nyandarua, Nyeri and Taita-Taveta counties have been trained in the multiplication process. Potato farmers in these counties continue to face production challenges, leading to an average production of 10 tonnes/ha compared with a potential 60 tonnes.