Tawanda Matema & Cyril Prinsloo
COVID-19 has affected global value chains by interrupting activity in three areas: transport and logistics, supply and production dynamics, and demand and consumption patterns.
These effects have also been felt in the SADC region across agricultural value chains, which comprise producers (farmers), suppliers (industries), distributors (transport and logistics) and consumers in the region. Agro-value chains are central to SADC food security systems, intra-regional integration, trade and co-operation, and economic growth.
First, the most devastating socioeconomic consequence of COVID-19, as far as SADC agro-value chains are concerned, has been the difficulty faced by many in acquiring access to food, resulting in rising levels of hunger.
The SADC Synthesis Report on the State of Food and Nutrition Security and Vulnerability in Southern Africa 2020 showed that about 44.8 million people, living in both urban and rural areas, are food insecure. Data shows that food insecurity increased by about 10 percent between 2019 and 2020.
In addition, the closure of schools due to COVID-19 has negatively affected food and nutrition security among children of school-going age, with an estimated 20.5 million school children not having access to meals and nutrition services normally provided by schools.
Second, international agricultural production has increased. Similarly, SADC has recorded an eight percent increase in maize production.
However, the SADC region has seen disruptions in the transportation of agricultural produce, such as grain – prompted by COVID-19-related restrictions and border closures ‒ and its subsequent distribution to countries with food deficits.
Third, the introduction of national lockdowns aimed at helping to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 has resulted in rising unemployment and the hardship that goes with it as the majority of people living in southern Africa “live hand-to-mouth”.
The implications for domestic markets and industries have been severe as travel restrictions have meant that some businesses, particularly SMEs and those in the informal sector, have had to lay off workers because they could not pay them, while other businesses have closed permanently.
For instance, the shutting down of Beitbridge, the largest inland border in Southern Africa, between South Africa and Zimbabwe, curtailed intraregional trade and the movement of over 25,000 people per day. The impact was particularly acute between April and May 2020.
Fourth, COVID-19 resulted in delays in the negotiation and implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which was to have taken off in mid-2020. The AfCFTA eventually took effect in January 2021, although a number of countries still need to ratify the agreement in order to benefit from its tariff-free trade provision.
The successful implementation of the AfCFTA has the potential to significantly strengthen regional integration efforts. It will also enable SADC agricultural value chains to offer protection to small-scale farmers, local markets and emerging industries through the elimination of tariffs on 90 percent of goods produced and a guarantee of free movement across the continent, which is vital for cooperation and consolidation of resources among member states.
Fifth, the spread of COVID-19 has seen the heightened adoption of digital services across value chains globally. This has included a greater uptake of automation technologies, consumer-oriented platforms for food delivery, business-to-business e-commerce applications, and videoconferencing, among others.
These services have had the effect of restructuring global value chain activities. SADC countries need to adapt to these changes, while also considering what is technically feasible in a regional context in view of the fact that technology utilisation varies in large-scale commercial farming and small-scale subsistence farming, respectively.
With the adoption of technologies such as smartphone apps, videoconferencing and business e-commerce applications, there is great potential to extend agricultural value chain opportunities to smallholder farmers – those who have previously been precluded from participating in, and benefiting from, value chains.
SADC agricultural value chains face a number of challenges, chief among them being climate change, low levels of agricultural infrastructure development, poverty and food insecurity, the predominance of subsistence farming over export-oriented agriculture and, more recently, delays in the implementation of the AfCFTA.
Although the agricultural sector in SADC has largely been spared the negative fallout from COVID-19 compared to other sectors, the latter has still exacerbated existing challenges facing the sector.
There are, however, opportunities for SADC to build more robust and inclusive agricultural value chains. Importantly, small-scale subsistence farming needs to be supported along with export-orientated commercial farming, with the help of appropriate interventions.
There is also scope for SADC member governments and private businesses to form partnerships in developing resilient infrastructure, using climate-smart technologies that will take regional agriculture into the future and ensure that it is a sustainable driver of development.
Another future-proofing technique would be to digitalise the SADC agro-value chains to improve communication between, and optimise the performance, of farmers, input suppliers, transport and logistics service providers, financiers and other value chain participants.
The long-awaited AfCFTA, in turn, has the potential to be a catalyst for augmented agricultural production across the continent and to afford small farmers the opportunity to play a meaningful role in Africa’s agricultural development.
This article has been excerpted from South African Institute of International Affairs policy brief 234, published in April 2021 under the title “Optimising Agricultural Value Chains in Southern Africa After COVID-19”. It was produced with support from SIDA. The full brief can be found at https://saiia.org.za/research/optimising-agricultural-value-chains-in-southern-africa-after-covid-19/
Lake Malawi needs saving
Blantyre – The water quality in Lake Malawi, one of the world’s most important fresh water bodies, is threatened by excessive plant and algal growth caused by poor land use in catchment areas.
The effects of what is scientifically known as eutrophication came to the fore in recent weeks when some sections of the lake’s water turned green.
Nancy Tembo, the Minister of Forestry and Natural Resources, attributed the development to recent heavy rains that washed soils from the lake’s catchment areas and stirred accumulated toxic algae at the bottom of the water body.
Years of sedimentary discharge into the lake have contributed to the creation of blooms of poisonous green algae that reduce water clarity and degrade water quality, leading to the decaying or killing aquatic life as a result of limited access to sunlight, carbon dioxide and nutrient fertilisers.
High human population growth, pollution, deforestation and agriculture, especially in the southern region of the lake, are some of the factors that result in soil erosion and sedimentary discharge into the lake, part of the African Great Lakes, with more fish species than any other lake in the world and an important freshwater resource to Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique.
Minister Tembo has warned people to stay away from the in affected areas as it was presently classified as a public health risk and a threat to fisheries, domestic animals and wildlife.
Meanwhile, the newly constituted Malawi Environmental Protection Agency (MEPA) has put a halt to a water supply project in the country’s leading tourist attraction district of Mangochi to investigate environmental concerns raised by the local community.
Community members fear the US$ 11,415,677.48 project, to be financed by the Fund for Arab and Economic Development (KFAED), threatens Lake Malawi and its riparian areas.
“The Sothern Region Water Board is about to blast and destroy one of the most pristine parts of the prestigious Lake Malawi National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site,” shouts a public notice they have released.
MEPA has since directed the water board to pay US$6,385 fine.
“If this project is allowed to proceed in this location it would destroy the most unspoilt area with the biggest trees, the last refuge for wildlife in the Lake Malawi National Park and an area with historical ancient rock paintings from the San Bushmen time.
“It will also cause erosion, flooding, mudslides and the possible permanent siltation of Namaso Bay, this would affect recreation, existing water supply and create a dead marine environment with no fish where bilharzia and other waterborne diseases will proliferate,” reads part of the notice adding that certain species of Mbuna, only found in these waters off Nkudzi point and nowhere else in the world, would be affected together with the African fish eagle population.
Concerned citizens are demanding that an environmental impact assessment be made public.