Developing countries hit doubly hard by coronavirus

In most African countries, COVID-19 is likely to trigger a combined health and food crisis. In order to cope with this unprecedented crisis, consistently aligning our policies to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is more important than ever, our author maintains.

Young Girls from Slums in Kenia use their Corona Virus braided hair style in spreading awares to the society. Photo: Donwilson Odhiambo/ZUMA Wire/picture alliance
Young Girls from Slums in Kenia use their Corona Virus braided hair style in spreading awares to the society. Photo: Donwilson Odhiambo/ZUMA Wire/picture alliance

Gunther Beger

(c) Brit Reichelt-Zolho/ WWF

Since October 2014, Gunther Beger has been Head of Division 1 (Policy Issues; Economy; Trade; Rural Development) at the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). From December 2013 to October 2014 he headed the Executive Staff at BMZ. Beger, born in Bonn in 1961, studied agricultural sciences with a focus on economics, social sciences and development policy.  From 1991 onwards, he worked for over 20 years in various functions at the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL), most recently as Head of the Department for International Projects. From 1995 to 2000, he was Agricultural Officer at the German Embassy in Moscow. From 2003 to 2005, Beger worked as an advisor to the CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the German Bundestag in the areas of agriculture, consumer and environmental protection.

 

Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development

GIZ

Since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019, life has changed beyond recognition. This applies to all of us, all over the world, but the worst effects of the pandemic will be felt by countries and people who are already living with poverty, hunger and poor governance.

In densely populated neighbourhoods, social distancing rules are largely unworkable, and even under normal circumstances, millions of people have no access to clean water, let alone disinfectant. Health systems are weak, and protective clothing, ventilators and specialists are in short supply. In Africa, many people have underlying health conditions such as HIV or malaria, greatly increasing their risk of serious illness if they become infected with COVID-19.

However, focusing solely on the health sector is by no means enough. In most African countries, COVID-19 is not only set to become a major health emergency; it is also likely to trigger a combined health and food crisis. In some African countries, fruit and vegetable prices have already risen sharply, as the Daily Food Prices Monitor, available on the FAO website, shows.

 

Republic of Togo: a vegetable and fruit stand near the city center of the Togolese capital Lome. Photo: Christoph Püschner / Bread for the World
Republic of Togo: a vegetable and fruit stand near the city center of the Togolese capital Lome. Photo: Christoph Püschner / Bread for the World

These price rises hit the poorest population groups particularly hard. Even before the pandemic, most of their income was spent on food. The worry is that the reduced availability of healthy and nutritious food such as fruit and vegetables, on the one hand, and limited purchasing power, on the other, will lead to a significant increase in undernourishment and malnutrition, with children, sadly, among the worst affected.

The food crisis may well hit the African countries before or at the same time as the health emergency. What is certain is that the two aspects of the crisis are mutually reinforcing: the measures adopted to protect health – such as lockdowns and border closures – worsen the food and economic crisis; anyone who is already undernourished or suffering from malnutrition is also more vulnerable to serious illness if they become infected with COVID-19.

Reports are reaching us from our partners around the world about the impacts of the pandemic on agricultural production and food security. In many countries, the massive restrictions on free movement are already causing labour shortages and logistical and transport problems. The reduced availability of rural workers will lead to crop losses on a massive scale, particularly for labour-intensive products such as fruit and vegetables. The growing season in many regions normally starts in May, but this is now at acute risk, and if sowing does not take place, there will be no harvest. At the same time, the restrictions on movement are causing substantial income losses, particularly among rural workers, with entire families struggling to survive.

In some countries, supply chains for inputs such as seed, fertiliser and animal feed have been disrupted by the border shutdowns and restrictions on movement introduced in response to the pandemic. Smallholders, whose livelihoods depend on viable supply chains, are at risk of sliding back into subsistence farming, resulting in a drastic loss of income. The increase in value-added through agricultural processing in recent years is likely to be wiped out.

 

Kneading bread dough and placing it in the baking molds - snapshot in a bakery in Ghana. Photo: Frank Schultze / Zeitenspiegel
Kneading bread dough and placing it in the baking molds - snapshot in a bakery in Ghana. Photo: Frank Schultze / Zeitenspiegel

 

In Kenya, for example, only the major markets are still functioning at present under the government-imposed lockdown. Supply chains to and from remote regions have broken down. Much of the milk output is not reaching the collection points, so most smallholders are now starting to consume their milk themselves again or are selling small quantities to neighbours, for example. However, without storage, transport and cooling facilities, this is only possible to a very limited extent. Most of the milk is turning sour, eliminating the smallholders’ main source of income and cutting off the supply to the urban population.

Turning to Zambia, the shutdown of borders with its neighbours means that the country is more or less cut off from the outside world. In combination with domestic travel restrictions, this has massively curtailed the flow of goods. As a result, production inputs and imported foods will become more difficult to access. The prices of staple foods such as rice and potatoes have already surged over the past month. Zambian households are reacting by scaling back their consumption of nutritious foods. This leads to undernourishment and particularly endangers child nutrition.

International agricultural trade and global agricultural supply chains are badly affected as well. Storage facilities throughout the world are full and a good harvest is forecast, so it should – in theory – be possible to rule out supply bottlenecks. However, distribution is a key issue. In recent weeks, deliveries of tropical fruit from South-East Asia were disrupted as a result of a backlog in Asian ports, where refrigerated containers could not be unloaded on time.

 

A look at the work of a tree nursery in Kenya. Photo: Jörg Böthling / GIZ
A look at the work of a tree nursery in Kenya. Photo: Jörg Böthling / GIZ

As in previous crises, we are already seeing some countries resorting to protectionist measures. At the end of March, the government of Kazakhstan banned the export of certain foods, including wheat flour, sunflower oil, sugar, potatoes and some vegetables. The Vietnamese government – normally a key exporter of rice to Africa – has not signed any new rice export contracts for the time being: it wants to ensure that local rice stores are full in order to guarantee the domestic food supply.

We know from experience that trade-restrictive measures such as these have negative impacts across the board. They pose an immediate risk to supply chains that have taken time and effort to establish and where mutual dependency among stakeholders helps to sustain market equilibrium. So it is all the more crucial to keep the global food trade operating and to remove these newly introduced export restrictions. In this way, local food shortages can be avoided and stability of world market prices achieved.

In trade as elsewhere, then, it is clear that we will only overcome this crisis through global cooperation, not isolation. The pandemic casts our high level of interdependence into sharp relief. No country will win the war on the virus on its own. We are reliant on each other and must therefore closely coordinate our response. Germany’s Development Minister Dr Gerd Müller has therefore advocated strongly for the creation of a world crisis management institution headed by UN Secretary-General António Guterres. We must cluster and build up our resources within this framework – and apply nexus thinking to the health and food crisis: from multilateral structures and emergency aid (WHO, WFP) to the international financial architecture and debt relief (IMF, World Bank) and maintaining and developing supply chains and trade systems (WTO, EU).

We will provide short-term support in order to contain and mitigate the impacts of the pandemic in developing countries – and we will do so precisely because we are long-term partners. This applies particularly to the food and agriculture sector. Here, the networks set up under the BMZ’s ONE WORLD – No Hunger initiative are particularly valuable. We are using the green innovation centres that operate in 14 African countries and India, and which now have a network of tens of thousands of smallholders, small businesses, farmers’ organisations and associations extending deep into rural areas, as a basis for providing country-specific, needs-based support.

 

Kenya: Deworming goats using a vaccination gun. Photo: Christoph Püschner / Bread for the World
Kenya: Deworming goats using a vaccination gun. Photo: Christoph Püschner / Bread for the World

In Ethiopia and Benin, for example, we are supplying seed and smaller items of machinery to our partners as a short-term measure to ensure that sowing is not put at risk, and we are also covering increased delivery costs. In Burkina Faso, we are helping to raise public awareness of COVID-19 via a radio programme. Here and also in Malawi and Ghana, we are funding hygiene equipment for our partners for use in production facilities. In India, we are procuring animal feed. In Tunisia, we focus on hygiene measures in the dairy industry and have supplied 1,500 harvest workers with protective clothing.

These are not rigidly organised measures; they are a response to the highly specific needs of our in-country partners. When you have been working closely with individuals and institutions for many years, as we have done, providing this kind of direct support is a given. It also helps in demonstrating that European solidarity with Africa is about action as well as words: a friend in need is a friend indeed.

This pandemic poses immense challenges for the international community. It is causing untold suffering and devastation on a global scale. I am sure that in many places, rapid, straightforward and trust-based support will continue to make all the difference. That is why we are restructuring our budgets and mobilising funding. It is too early to draw any conclusions – even preliminary ones – at this stage. But I believe that consistently aligning our policies to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is more important and relevant than ever.

These global goals find expression in many realms, from the Paris Agreement and the European Green Deal to our engagement for more social and environmental sustainability in global supply chains. Now is not the time to call these political goals into question, as some parties with vested interests are already doing; on the contrary, we must continue to work towards these goals with even greater commitment.

Despite the dramatic scale of the crisis, it also offers opportunities to change the world for the better. Not only will we see digitalisation speed up considerably. Questions will have to be addressed with heightened urgency: How can we make agriculture more resilient to future crises? How can we generate local value-added, e.g. through more local processing? What role can agroecology play? How can we redesign agricultural research to improve our understanding of zoonotic diseases, for example?

Right now, this is hard to imagine, for we are still at the start of our efforts to cope with this unprecedented crisis. Nevertheless, perhaps there is a glimmer of light on the horizon: the hope that our globalised world will emerge from this crisis stronger and more united than before. That must continue to be our goal.

 

This article was published in cooperation with our media partner Rural21.

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Global responsibility: Tackling hunger is the only way forward

A contribution by Lisa Hücking (WHH)

Chancellor Merkel has begun an ambitious European political programme: Striving for compromise in budget negotiations, an orderly Brexit as well as an appropriate response to the corona crisis. Unfortunately, one of her positions that she previously held is nowhere to be found: Africa's prosperity is in the interest of Europe. 

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Gender equality: Essential for food and nutrition security

A contribution by Carsta Neuenroth (BfdW)

The majority of producers in developing countries are women. Although they contribute significantly to the food security of their families, they remain chronically disadvantaged in male-dominated agriculture in terms of access to land, credit, technology and education.

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Success story allotment garden: Food supply and women's empowerment

A contribution by Nadine Babatounde and Anne Floquet (MISEREOR)

To prevent malnutrition among young children and strengthen the role of women in their communities, Misereor, together with the local non-governmental organisation CEBEDES, is implementing a programme on integrated home gardens in Benin - a series of pictures.

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A partnership to fight hunger

A contribution by GAFSP

The Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) was launched by the G20 countries in 2010 in response to the 2008-09 food price crisis to increase both public and private investment in agriculture. An overview of the programme's approach, results and impact.

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(c) Michael Bruentrup/DIE

News from the starting block: Changeover

A contribution by Michael Brüntrup (DIE)

The region of Sub-Saharan Africa is on the decisive verge of a great development boost in farming: it could skip entire generations of technological development. But how? About possible roles and potentials of digital services.

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JOERG BOETHLING / GIZ

Continent in an uptrend

A report by Dr. Agnes Kalibata (AGRA)

Partnering for Africa’s Century: Innovation and Leadership as Drivers of Growth and Productivity in Rural Areas

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"Extreme is the new normal"

A report by Alexander Müller and Jes Weigelt (TMG)

As the climate changes, the population of Africa is growing and fertile land and jobs are becoming scarcer. New ways are currently leading to urbanisation of agriculture and a new mid-sized sector in the countryside

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© GIZ / Angelika Jacob

This is how developing countries can adapt better to droughts

A contribution by Michael Brüntrup (DIE) und Daniel Tsegai (UNCCD)

Droughts are the natural disasters with far-reaching negative consequences. While rich countries are still vulnerable to drought, famines are no longer found.

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(c) Christof Krackhardt/Brot für die Welt

Together and resourceful against worldwide hunger

A contribution by Brot für die Welt

Climate change disturbs the climate in Ethiopia. The answer from small farmers in the northern region is convincing: diversify!

 

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(c) Christoph Mohr/GIZ

Microinsurance against climate change

A contribution by Claudia Voß

Climate change is destroying development progress in many places. The clever interaction of digitalisation and the insurance industry protects affected small farmers.

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(c) Nina Schroeder/World Food Programme

Hunger is caused by people, not the climate

Interview with Jacob Schewe (PIK)

A study by the World Bank predicts that millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa will have to leave their homelands because of climate change. We have spoken with one of the authors

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UNFSS Pre-Summit: What did it achieve?

Interview with Martina Fleckenstein (WWF), Michael Kühn (WHH) and Christel Weller-Molongua (GIZ)

After the summit means pre-summit: It was the first time that the United Nations held a summit on food systems. Martina Fleckenstein (WWF), Michael Kühn (WHH) and Christel Weller-Molongua (GIZ) reviewed the situation in this joint interview.

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How do you campaign “Food Systems”?

Interview with Paul Newnham, Director of the SDG 2 Advocacy Hub.

The UN Food Systems pre-Summit in Rome dealt with transforming the ways of our nutrition. How do you bring that to a broad public? Questions to Paul Newnham, the Director of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 Advocacy Hub.

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Food system transformation starts and ends with diversity

A contribution by Emile Frison and Nick Jacobs (IPES-Food)

While having failed to solve the hunger problem, industrial agriculture appears to be causing additional ones both in environmental and health terms. Emile Frison and Nick Jacobs call for a transformation.

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Mr. Marí, what happened at the alternative summit?

An Interview with Francisco Marí (Brot für die Welt)

Brot für die Welt (Bread for the World) did not attend the UNFSS pre-summit. Instead, the organisation took part in a counter-summit that took place at the same time. A conversation with Francisco Marí about the reasons, the process - and an outlook for the future

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What do you expect from this Pre Summit, Mr. Haddad?

Interview with Lawrence Haddad (GAIN)

Nutrition experts from all over the world are coming together in Rome. They are not only distilling 2000 ideas to improve food systems - they are also preparing for the big UN summit in New York in September. An interview. 

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Mr. Campari, how do we create sustainable food systems?

Interview with Joao Campari (WWF)

Journalist Jan Rübel spoke with Joao Campari ahead of the UNFSS Pre-Summit. The Chair of Action Track 3 highlights key challenges in transforming existing food systems towards sustainable production and shares his expectations for the Summit.

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Land Rights, Gender and Soil Fertility in Benin

A contribution by Dr. Karin Gaesing and Prof. Dr. Frank Bliss (INEF)

Especially in densely populated areas, land pressure leads to overexploitation of available land and a lack of conservation measures. The West African country of Benin, with heavily depleted soils in many places, is no exception.

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The Rice Sector in West Africa: A Political Challenge

New insights on trade and value addition in the rice sector in West Africa

Low import tariffs, smuggling activities, unpredictable tax exemptions and weak enforcement of food safety standards: The potential of local rice value chains is undermined in West African countries.

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©WFP/Rein Skullerud

Revolutionising Humanitarian Aid

A contribution by Ralf Südhoff

Financial innovations can prevent a crisis turning into a catastrophe. The livelihoods of people in affected areas may well depend on intervention before a crisis – and on risk funds.

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Kakaoernte

Doing More With Less

A contribution by Jochen Moninger

Innovation is the only way to end hunger worldwide by the deadline we have set ourselves. The secret lies in networking and sharing ideas – and several initiatives are already leading by example.

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Innovations for a secure food supply

A contribution by German Agribusiness Alliance

The COVID 19 pandemic is hitting developing and emerging countries and their poorest populations particularly hard. It is important to take countermeasures at an early stage. Companies in the German agricultural sector want to make their contribution to ensuring the availability of urgently needed operating resources.

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"Without peace, there will be no development"

Interview with Karina Mroß (DIE)

What contribution does development cooperation make to conflict prevention? What can it do for sustainable peace? Political scientist Karina Mroß talks to Raphael Thelen about post-conflict societies and their chances for peaceful development.

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(c) Privat

Small Farms, big money

A contribution by Agnes Kalibata

Agnes Kalibata, AGRA president since 2014 and former minister of agriculture and wildlife in Rwanda, is convinced that Africa's economy will only grow sustainably if small-scale agriculture is also seen as an opportunity.

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