We stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in our many and diverse constituencies across Africa. We send a message of hope that each one of you and your family is coping with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the anxiety that it is raising. We anticipate that the pandemic will affect Africa differently than other continents. While the number of African casualties is currently much lower than in other continents, we should remain vigilant. If the virus spreads widely in our populations, we may be impacted more heavily than any other continent.
Although this is the time for ‘social distancing’, we need to build on the source of our resilience – our social cohesion and solidarity. We call on communities to continue to support each other in this dire moment, especially the most vulnerable among us, with compassion, resilience and hope. We call on African governments to ensure that their responses to this crisis take full account of the needs of the most vulnerable: urban youth, street children, women-headed households, migrants, refugees, internally displaced people.
What is becoming clearer now is that the source of COVID-19 is strongly linked to the activities of the industrial food system. Land grabs and the expansion of monocrop farming into previously undisturbed ecosystems has breached their boundaries and led to the crossover of viral diseases from animals to humans. Factory farming –intensive livestock production– has led to weakened immune systems and more virulent disease transmission. Africa must reverse its openness to industrial farming systems if we are to break free from the impending threat of further pandemics attacking our people.
Governments should urgently rethink their approach to African food systems:
- Governments should revisit their focus on market commodity-based agriculture. Reorienting farming to depend on international commodity markets will only increase farmers’ vulnerability when the system around them collapses, as it is doing now. The impact this virus will have on those farmers who are locked in to the international commodity trading regime is incalculable.
- Governments should support and develop the concept of territorial food systems. A territorial approach revives rural areas through linking them with nearby urban areas, stimulating the rural economy, improving infrastructure, and localizing governance. This kind of development will increase our resilience against future pandemics.
- Governments should be accountable for the resources they are getting from outside sources to support those in need.
- Women are often responsible for feeding the family, for the care of children, the sick and elderly. This potentially increases women’s exposure to COVID-19, with knock-on implications for family health and nutrition. Women’s rights to equal protection and care must be safeguarded.
- Agricultural biodiversity is the source of resilience in our food systems. In time of distancing and lockdown, farmers and other food producers need to be able to rely on their own diverse resources rather than waiting for monocrop seeds and inputs to come from far away.
- Ensure equal access of health care, materials and support to indigenous peoples and local communities affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences. This should be responsive to the culture and situations of Indigenous Peoples and local communities including the recognition and support to indigenous health care providers.
- Support Indigenous communities who are making the decision in self imposing lock downs or limitations to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus in their communities. Indigenous Peoples already face challenges such as limited medical facilities, health issues and overcrowded housing.
- This pandemic increases the urgency for Agroecology to be recognized, valued and adopted as a strategy for transforming African agricultural and food systems. Agroecology is a people-centred system of sustainable agriculture, combining indigenous knowledge with cutting edge science, making the best use of nature to create healthy communities, and empowering a social movement that resists the industrialization of agriculture.