Safety nets critical for smallholder farmers

Source: Safety nets critical for smallholder farmers | Herald (Business)

Enacy Mapakame Business Reporter
Smallholder farmers and traders will bear the brunt of the coronavirus more due to lack of safety nets to cushion them during such disasters, industry experts have said.

Following the outbreak of the pandemic, many economies have been affected with businesses scaling down operations with a lockdown implemented across countries.

Small holder farmers have, however, been argued to be at more risk due to the nature of their businesses —  small and informal, despite their immense contribution to food security at both household and national level.

Indications from the World Bank are that the entire Sub-Saharan Africa could face a food crisis as a result of the pandemic with agriculture potentially contracting by between 2,6 percent and 7 percent.

Food imports are also seen declining substantially as much as 25 percent or as little as 13 percent due to a combination of higher transaction costs and reduced domestic demand.

Knowledge Transfer Africa Private Limited (KTA) — a local organisation that provides research-based consultancy for agriculture and its value chains indicates that Zimbabwe and other African economies need formal and viable investment models for small holder farmers and traders of agriculture produce to cushion them in the event of natural disasters.

Following the pronouncement of a national lockdown effective March 30, 2020, small holder farmers incurred huge losses as fresh produce perished at the country’s major markets such as Mbare Musika, Sakubva, Bulawayo that had closed, despite the agriculture and food industry being exempt from the lockdown.

Mbare Musika has since re-opened.

“Smallholder farmers do not have social safety which can directly cushion them against shocks induced by Covid-19. In the absence of social safety nets, crops and livestock are their only source of food and income, meeting their day to day needs,” said KTA chief executive officer Mr Charles Dhewa in their latest report on Strategies for cushioning African informal economies against Covid-19.

According to KTA, most of the smallholder farmers and traders produce to sustain themselves and household level and ensure food security.

Cumulatively, their contribution to the country’s food security cannot be overlooked as they account for a significant amount of supplies to national food, tobacco and cotton output.

“The predicament would be lesser if African countries had investment models for rural enterprises. Currently, a cotton or tobacco farmer who earns his or her income from sales, has no meaningful investment opportunities in rural areas where she lives,” said KTA.

Traders across the value chains are not spared either.

“Shocks caused by Covid-19 have affected these traders more because their businesses have been disrupted by being delinked from farmers, some of whom they have financed to produce particular crops. In the absence of social safety nets, crops and livestock are their only source of food and income, meeting their day-to-day needs. While formal shops like supermarkets may be open, if farmers are not able to sell their commodities in the cash-driven informal market, they will not be able to buy commodities from supermarkets,” said KTA.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) the contribution of smallholder farmers to global food production is significant as they supply up to 50 percent the world’s cereal, 60 percent of the world’s meat and 75 percent of the world’s dairy production. For developing countries, there is a heavy dependence on local small holder farmers to supply food needs for both urban and rural populations.

As such, paying attention to their needs and continuation of production and across value chains must be a top priority if countries are to achieve food security.