As in almost all sectors, the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic has affected and challenged the agricultural sector and international development cooperation worldwide. The GIZ global project Fund for Agricultural Policy Advice and Innovation (GV FABI) and its partners have sought out solutions to address the gaps and constraints imposed by the pandemic. Together with our local projects and partners in Benin, the East African Community and Namibia, we have identified needs for action and accordingly made necessary and innovative adaptations to continue our work and activities on agricultural policy advice.
Effects on activities and partners in several ways
The crisis and related movement restrictions disrupted agricultural flows. In several partner countries, especially in Africa, the first movement restrictions were enacted at the beginning of the planting season, at a time when farmers were preparing their fields and needed access to inputs, including seeds and labour. The movement restrictions hampered access to markets either to buy inputs or to sell outputs. Moreover, they limited the provision of agricultural extension services and labour supply at such a critical time.
The crisis also hindered the implementation of partners’ strategies and investment plans in the agricultural sector. In part, the health crisis led to shifts of government budgets to health care services. In addition to disruptions affecting agricultural production, most African countries are net food importers and heavily rely on international markets.
COVID-related disruptions in global supply chains and in shipment logistics are expected to lead to a substantial decrease in trade with agricultural products. On top of potential shortages in food availability, additional risks to food security are related to the economic slowdown that is expected to negatively affect access to food. According to WFP, 130 million people could face acute food insecurity by the end of 2020, on top of the 135 million people who were already acutely food insecure before the COVID-crisis.
Response by the global project Fund for Agricultural Policy Advice and Innovation
Since mid-2019 GV FABI has been active on behalf of the German Government in Benin and Namibia, and in East African Community countries to support the development and implementation of evidence-based agricultural and trade policies. The activities of these projects have been substantially affected by the COVID crisis and the restrictions enacted since early 2020.
Several of the studies that were commissioned to provide evidence to support policymaking have been delayed. Similarly, the meetings that were planned to ensure the inclusion of all stakeholders in the policy process have been delayed or cancelled. Moreover, study trips that were foreseen to explore trade opportunities in regional markets could not take place. In the face of those unexpected events, the projects responded proactively by adjusting their approaches for delivering advisory services and support to the partners.
Emergency support to farmers was decided upon. A fast track provision of inputs, soy inoculum and seeds, was enacted to ensure that smallholder farmers have timely access to critical inputs for the planting season. A study assessed the resilience of poultry farmers to cope with the consequences of the COVID crisis. Its recommendations on how policies could reinforce the resilience of farmers are now being implemented jointly with the project Green Innovation Centres in the agriculture and food sector.
The GV FABI project also responded ad-hoc to the crisis in Benin by providing key partners, including the Ministry of Agriculture and the Agricultural Development Territorial Agencies, with hygiene kits – face masks and hand washing equipment. Several meetings to coordinate the policy processes with key stakeholders have been moved to online formats. The logistic setup of a study to examine policy options for better regulation of poultry imports and development of the value chains of the local poultry sector, involving international experts, was revised in light of the travel restrictions affecting the freedom of movement of international experts. Despite the new challenges, the project staff maintained close contact with partners through the crisis, mainly via online formats and phone calls, to continue advising them on their agricultural strategies. The project’s advisory services are adjusted to include how partners can effectively revise policies to confront the effects of the crisis and develop new policies for a resilient, competitive and inclusive agricultural sector.
Here a business continuity response plan has been developed based on the assessment of how critical the various activities are and how likely they are to be affected by the pandemic. Excursions and exchange trips, which were planned to network the newly created Agri-Trade Policy Institute (ATPI) with international institutions, had to be postponed. Contact with potential partners such as the Universities of Bonn and Hohenheim was maintained via digital platforms. The partners — the Namibia Trade Forum, three farmers’ unions and the Department of Planning in the Ministry of Agriculture — were supported throughout the crisis in the planning of future events and workshops to take place online.
Before the outbreak of the crisis, a couple of studies providing evidence for policymaking were ongoing or in preparation. Contact with the respective consultants was maintained by phone and communication via digital formats. Evidence remains critical for understanding the full effects of COVID-19 and measuring its impact at a later stage. To this end, the country package is working together with other development partners, relevant national ministries and departments on a measurement tool that will enable the sector to collect data related to food availability and food prices. COVID-19 is a trigger for the sector to realise the need for data capturing which eventually will assist the sector to prepare better policy responses to future external threats. Necessary and successfully implemented shifts to virtual events have demonstrated the need to expand digital capacities.
In the East African Community
In the countries of the community, the COVID crisis hampered the timely implementation of a cross-national study to take stock of the current state of seed potato trade among the six EAC country members. The study shall also formulate recommendations to harmonise norms and standards for increased seed potato trade in the region. The project therefore encouraged the use of interviews and meetings held via online formats to finalize the study, which is critical for the provision of evidence for the policy advisory services to be delivered by the project.
Globally, especially in Africa
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused major disruptions across the world. In GIZ’s partner countries, especially in Africa, the health crisis added to the insufficient public investments in the agricultural sector and the limited access to inputs and markets. The restrictions to movements and other measures such as curfews, temporary shutdowns have hampered the delivery of GIZ advisory services to support the development and implementation of evidence-based agricultural policies.
The country packages of the global project Fund for Agricultural Policy Advice and Innovation reacted promptly to the new challenges by adjusting their approach for delivering policy advice and by providing emergency assistance when needed. With COVID-19, we entered a new era, and our advisory services need to be adjusted and innovative. GIZ’s services for advising evidence-based development and implementation of agricultural and trade policies are now more than ever needed to ensure that policy processes are inclusive and to achieve the overarching objective of an innovative, competitive and resilient agricultural sector in the partner countries. Several challenges still lie ahead, but with the full commitment of both the partner and the GIZ, we remain confident in the achievement of this goal.
 Ayanlade A. and M. Radeny (2020) COVID-19 and food security in Sub-Saharan Africa: implications of lockdown during agricultural planting seasons. Science of Food (2020) 4:13 ; https://doi.org/10.1038/s41538-020-00073-0
 FAO (2020) Food Outlook Report. http://www.fao.org/3/ca9509en/CA9509EN.pdf
 World Bank (2020) Food security and COVID-19. https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/agriculture/brief/food-security-and-covid-19
Johanes Agbahey, Advisor GIZ global project Fund for Agricultural Policy Advice and Innovation (GV FABI) – firstname.lastname@example.org