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FAO and AU join hands to ensure proper food supply during COVID-19

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the African Union (AU) and their partner have agreed to support the food and agriculture system to operate during periods of lockdown, emergency, curfew and other containment measures

The document was adopted at a virtual gathering with 55 AU member states and 45 ministers in attendance. Josefa Sacko, commissioner of the Department of Rural Economy and Agriculture, AU, moderated the event.

The pledge includes regular supply of food to the weaker sections of society, no disruptions in the movement and transport of eminent people and skeleton staff of organisation and the easy transport and marketing of goods and services during the COVID-19 pandemic. The state borders will remain open.

“We need strategic action to lessen the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on food security in Africa. Closing down of borders restricts the trade and limits the availability of food in many countries, particularly those who depend on food imports,” said director-general Qu Dongyu. He seemed welcoming about measures which did not cause any disruption in food supply chains.

Angela Thoko Didiza, minister for agriculture, land reform and rural development, South Africa, joined Qu in opening the discussion  and offered a word of caution against the impact of lockdowns on informal markets and international trade.

While FAO's chief economist Maximo Torero pointed to the growing evidence of strain on the food supply, Qu offered an alternative which would “shorten the chain,” by producing food items locally.

Many of the ministers outlined the challenges posed by the pandemic, especially where one-fifth of the population is undernourished.

Ibrahim Mayaki, CEO of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), warned about the risk of social stability, if food and cash were not enough. Government representatives, on the other hand, talked about rigorous measures for welfare benefits that the government is undertaking, despite the cost to national budget.

European commissioner for agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski offered an EU support package of more than US$20bn. World Bank's representative Simeon Ehui, affirmed the possibility of re-purposing an uncommitted funding of US$3.2bn. Martin Fregene from the African Development Bank (AfDB), concluded with the details of a COVID-19 response programme that includes targeted technical and financial support.