The resilience of the livelihoods of African farmers who constitute nearly 65% of the population will inevitably be tested during and after the pandemic.
Nevertheless, it is our opined view that technological innovations can contribute to management of the pandemic and to mitigate its negative impacts. In managing the disease, the killer blow to COVID-19 pandemic lies more in scientific research and innovations including biotechnology that could deliver a vaccine soon.
In addition, challenges in the food production and distribution during the outbreak of pandemics can also be addressed through technology. Presently, Africa can access more advanced technologies to combat farming challenges than at any other time in history. Some of these technologies include high yielding crop varieties that can perform well under drought conditions, can resist pests and diseases and can utilize nutrients more efficiently. Other novel technologies include farm mechanization options and digital agriculture solutions for crop management and knowledge dissemination.
Whereas high yielding varieties can boost countries’ self-sufficient goals and reduce farmers’ vulnerability to pandemics, digital agriculture solutions offer a range of opportunities to COVID-19 related challenges on labour and input supply. Increased sales of agricultural drones in China recently exhibited their usefulness during labour shortage and social distancing situations.
Digital agriculture solutions that link farmers to buyers and logistics services could also mitigate impacts of pandemics while shared mechanization services can avert reductions in cropped areas caused by labor shortages while increasing production.
Technologies with compelling potential for increasing productivity and dealing with pandemics are poorly adopted due to lack of an enabling policy, regulatory and institutional environment. Investment in the sector remains very low across the continent. It remains to be seen if the advent of COVID-19 may highlight and test governments resolve to explore the potential usage of technology in addressing the scourge and its impacts.
Marching forward and lessons learned Although the COVID-19 pandemic is threatening to inflict more pain as most modelling projections seem to indicate that the worst is probably yet to come, there is still hope. Technological advancement leading to better scientific understanding of factors that incubate pandemics have helped to reduce morbidity and mortalities.
What is left is for policy makers to create the necessary incentives to accelerate the use of technologies to improve crop production and avert disruptions to production and marketing systems which is a sure bet towards enhancing the resilience of farmers while cushioning vulnerable individuals.