The Impact of COVID-19 on agriculture value chains especially transportation logistics is immense. Economies must adopt, industries and sectors must find their own solutions to the bottlenecks in the agri-food supply chain.
Now that it is no longer business as usual, what makes up for robust food supply chains when borders are shut down? Will air travel cut prizes and yet break even in cross border food supply routes? What technological advances must we embrace in food production to bridge the growing supply gap? How can digital systems help speed up logistics integration in the transportation sector?
These are the questions that must be answered to charter the way forward for Africa's food security and maybe even the World's.
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While the COVID-19 crisis has brought to our door steps the largest challenge for food security of modern times; with lock downs, quarantines and logistics disruptions not to mention the inflation of food prices.
What we are facing here, short of concerted, joint, regional action is as one sector expert put it, the coronavirus crisis becoming a food crisis. Can we supply the 6 million people in a city like Dar es Salaam daily rations should they be placed in complete lock down? Let alone the 56 million Tanzanians across the country.
Meeting these huge national challenges needs regional support, no one country can self sustain, value chain integration is necessary. In a recent online conference held by the African Agri Council (AAC) sector pundits deliberated 'The Impact of COVID-19: Agri-Food Crisis Management.'
It was clear that there is need for digitizing Africa's agri-business to protect the future of food production. From mechanizing production, to high tech manufacturing solutions and logistics solutions, businesses must adopt and to do so, policies must support the change.
The AAC online dialogue hosted more than 300 high-level delegates, in this plenary session it was agreed that regional action is the only protection from an all out food crisis. However what exactly is the action to be taken when we cannot move food products and agriculture inputs across our borders?
Ben Leyka, CEO of AAC, was avid on the matter calling for integration of value chains to address transportation challenges.
"With the ongoing lock downs and travel restrictions this is the perfect platform for the AAC to bring together industry experts to address the key challenges faced by the agri-food sector, particularly the urgency to prioritize the development of robust food supply chains, drive technology adoption and promote value chain integration as well as market access." he urged.
While for the time been, food is available, the main issue is accessing it. FAO has issued a statement to this fact saying "... there is food availability globally, however food accessibility remains a challenge in a few countries worldwide notably in Africa."
For FAO's statement to be valid and true in the course of the coming few months, there is need for real time data and statistics on the food sources, location of storage facilities, the type of food in storage and the distribution networks plotted.
To quote a delegate at the food security conference addressing the agri-business challenges amidst the COVID-19 pandemic;
"Therefore, it is crucial for African governments to lead data and insights gathering for more accurate food balance sheets, partnership with the private sector and civil society for a coordinated response to a potential food security crisis, solidarity to support the most vulnerable among us and agility to respond to evolving challenges triggered by COVID-19."
The East African Community, only last month postponed its first proposed regional response to the coronavirus pandemic. The seat down, that would have been held online, would have offered the region's Heads of State the grand opportunity to discuss food security in the region.
The need for application of ICT cannot be overrated, it is the answer to decimating information, market conditions, data, and policy changes. Operating as though COVID-19 will just go away and things will resume back to normal is to say the least, a very misguided notion. The World will never be the same post the coronavirus pandemic.
Regional security will change, economies will have to find more resilient defenses to such shake downs because others will come. So Africa and its food security challenge can continue to operate business as usual and maintain the status quo, there have to be changes that lead to digital solutions and joint responses to crisis.
It is to be noted that ICT can enhance and secure supply chains and that way help to solve the logistics problems caused by this and other pandemic to come. Market prices, input sources, demand and supply needs all these key value and supply chain aspects are all connected by ICT.
"We have to rethink our whole food supply ecosystem! The world after Corona will be different!" says Jan Willem van Casteren, Director of eProd, a digital solution platform for agri-businesses.