24 April 2020 – Disruptions of food supply chains means a major risk to family farmers amid the COVID-19 crisis. Family farmers in developing countries have generally limited resources to deal with the pandemic’s knock-on effects. “Our response to the crisis is peasant solidarity”, stresses Henri Bies-Péré, President of the French Farmers and International Development (Agriculteurs français et développement international – Afdi). Based in France, Afdi is a non-governmental organization made up of French agricultural professionals aiming to support farmers’ organizations in developing countries. The interview below was originally posted by Afdi.
The fight against the coronavirus pandemic is accompanied by restrictive measures all over the world. What are the impacts on family farmers in Africa?
The risk, in Africa as in France, is the disruption of the food supply chains. The closing of shops and markets hinders access to food and inputs and reduces sources of income. In addition, if farmers do not have access to seeds, many crop seasons will be impacted. The reduction in the availability of agricultural products in 2020 risks further undermining access to food and worsening food shortages.
An additional difficulty is that most farmers in the Global South have no cash resources to hold. The food security of the most vulnerable is therefore at stake.
How are Afdi’s partner farmers’ organizations coping with the crisis?
They are already everywhere on the front. On the one hand, they are fighting for the health of their teams and their members. On the other, they are mobilizing to ensure the availability of agricultural products and the continuity of activities.
There are many initiatives. Most farmers’ organizations have launched communication activities (to raise awareness) about preventive measures to limit transmission. The Togolese Coordination of Peasant Organizations and Agricultural Producers (CTOP) distributes food to the most vulnerable; Aprofika, an organization of women in Chad, makes masks and increases its production of soaps; in Benin, the Federation of Producers’ Unions (FUPRO) will produce radio broadcasts on preventive measures and hygiene in agricultural production.
Farmers’ organizations (FOs) are particularly involved in maintaining the economic activity of their members. Rofama, a dairy cooperative in Madagascar, will set up in a few days a system for telephone orders and home delivery of dairy products to limit the effects of confinement; the federation of seed producers in Benin is increasing the number of local outlets to meet the needs of producers, as the agricultural season begins. These are just a few examples among many. All Afdi partner FOs are mobilized.
At the regional level, the Network of Farmers Organizations and Agricultural Producers of West Africa (ROPPA) has set up a monitoring committee with its network of national platforms, and is negotiating emergency measures for the agricultural sector with States and regional institutions. Afdi is part of this monitoring committee.
How can Afdi support the actions of its partners?
In multiple ways and according to their needs. What we are experiencing is something new, but together we can certainly conceive appropriate responses. We need to ensure activities will continue both at the farm level and along the value chain.
We are rescheduling the 2020 activities to adapt them to new needs. We are helping them to consolidate a digital-based information system with their members. We share the initiatives of agricultural professional organizations from different countries, including France, to encourage the emergence of new ideas.
In the longer term, we must support farmers’ organizations in their advocacy to promote a real support plan for family farming, so that it contributes to food sovereignty on the African continent. The episode we are going through should make decision-makers aware that agriculture must be a top priority in their action.
Is Afdi engaging with Agricord and PAFO in a plan to respond to the crisis? What is it about?
This is a joint initiative of the AgriCord Alliance, which is made up of 13 agro-agencies from all continents, including Afdi, and of the Pan African Farmers Organisation (PAFO) to respond to the crisis in collaboration with African farmers’ organizations. The aim is to limit the crisis’ impact on food supply chains on the one hand, and to anticipate the post-crisis period on the other. A consultation of peasant leaders and peasant organizations was conducted in mid-March across the continent to draw up an inventory of the negative effects of the pandemic, collect proposals for solutions, and organize actions from the local to the international level.
Our response to the crisis is peasant solidarity. Sharing the same planet, we must be responsible and fair in the same spirit.