The World Food Program (WFP) warns that COVID-19 could double the number of people in the world facing food insecurity, pushing it to more than 265 million people by the end of this year. While the pandemic is still unfolding, Africa is sure to be among the hardest hit by this global food shortage.
“We’ve never seen anything like this before,” Arif Husain, chief economist at the WFP, an agency of the United Nations, said in an interview with The New York Times in April. Mr. Husain said. “It wasn’t a pretty picture, to begin with, but this makes it truly unprecedented and uncharted territory.”
Rise and Lead Africa — a nonprofit organization that supports young visionary leaders who are committed to good governance, equal opportunities and economic empowerment of women– recently hosted a two-day webinar called “Myths, Impact and the Way Forward in Africa,” to examine ways to meet the hunger crisis, beef up digital security and protect job security in Africa.
The webinar’s first virtual roundtable discussion was led by Rise and Lead founder Ebere Akadiri and Adebola Salcko, the country chair of Rise and Lead. They were joined by Ndidi Nwuneli, co-founder and managing partner of Sahel Consulting; Josephine Favre, president of the African Association for Vertical Farming; and Temitope Omotolani, co-founder and managing partner of Crowdyvest. The four African women shared their insights on how Covid-19 is affecting food security in Africa and what can be done to help. The webinar was attended by professionals from various African countries including South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leon, and African in the diaspora in the US and Canada and the Netherlands.
“Many of our governments have done exactly what the West was doing,” Nwuneli said. “They’re locking down the economy, and they’re restricting movement. And they do not recognize food as an essential part of the Covid-19 response…it’s getting difficult for produce to get from the farms to the factories and processing sites, and it’s affecting food prices. Food prices have doubled or even tripled.”
Calling our farmers heroes in the same way that our doctors and nurses are, Mrs. Nwuneli stressed that we have to make very concerted efforts to address farmers’ needs.
To do that, Ms. Favre stressed the importance of bringing new technology to African farmers and food producers. “Agriculture in Africa is still a little bit backwards,” Favre said. “To be sustainable, we have to introduce farmers to the industrial revolution so that they can thrive and get ahead in the agriculture world through technology.”
Hunger is pushing some African citizens to take desperate measures to get food, according to Ms. Omotolani. She stated that government leaders could not manage the food crisis without the help of the African people and private entities. “It’s not something that the government can do by themselves,” she continued. “They need to talk to the stakeholders and see how they can address this.”
Information Management, Communication, Digital Security and Our Mental Health
The webinar’s second topic was “Information Management, Communication, Digital Security, and Our Mental Health.” The panelists focused on how information – and misinformation — is being disseminated during this pandemic, how the tech industry is responding, and how the crisis is affecting our emotions.
As more and more people look for answers to the pandemic, the tech Industry has experience both a surge and a strain on its infrastructure, according to Yemi Keri, CEO of Heckerbella Limited. “People also have to send devices and computers to their employees at home and, because of international logistics restrictions, the cost of these devices is escalating.”
There is a bright spot to the rapid increase in the need for digital technology, however. It has forced some areas of Africa to make needed strides in digitalization. “It’s beautiful to see the kind of creativity and innovations that are happening,” Anita de Werd, head of Marketing and Business Development of Maersk, Africa, said during the webinar. “The whole of digitalization is going very fast, especially in Africa. We still see a lot of places where documents are moving around physically, and now, we see an opportunity to move that digitally.”
The pandemic has heightened the need for getting current information, including how to curb the spread of the disease, to rural areas. In areas where access to the internet is limited, Jane Egerton-Idehen, Country Manager of Avanti Communications Ltd, expressed the need for traditional media. “We can use existing media, local radio stations, local TV stations, using local language, so people can understand what we’re talking about,” she said. “I’ve been impressed with some of the things I’ve seen on social media, but more importantly, we need to have information distributed in a form where they can be consumed.”
Sometimes too much information can be a bad thing. Barbara Piper, an internationally certified mentor, and coach, discussed the emotional stress of these uncertain times. “What’s important is that we regulate how we feel, and we organize how we’re doing,” she said. “Yes, we have all this fear and anxiety, but if you’re fearful of where your next food is coming from, that’s a different fear from ‘I’m feeling stressed because I’m getting too much information.”
Impact on Women Business Leaders in Africa
The third session of the webinar featured a panel of experts discussing the impact Covid-19 on is having on business and finance, especially for women business leaders in Africa.
“We have to make sure the women’s concerns are not left behind,” said Adwoa Kufuor-Owusu, the United Nations Regional Adviser of Gender and Women’s Rights. Sharing how she and her colleagues continue to work at the United Nations during the lockdown and away from their families, Kufuor-Owusu said, “We are trying to identify the different impacts on men and women, and how can that inform policies and responses in member states.”
Ms Akadiri, who served as both panelist and moderator for this session, shared her own experience as an entrepreneur during Covid-19. “So many people need to pivot now or perish,” she stressed. “They need to use technology to scale their impact. Some people need to change their business model entirely.
“You may be thinking it’s not going to come to me, but it’s coming to everybody. Small business owners have to start thinking of ways to pivot their businesses.”
Ada Irikefe, associate director of PWC Nigeria, continued this theme by suggesting “reinventing your business model, that’s the name of the game right now. “You have to look at other ways to generate revenue. You have to look at what the environment needs, what the customers want, and re-work your model. You will find something that would spring up from your various offers.”
With closures and lost revenue, the pandemic is hitting many businesses hard. Funke Oladoke, a partner at Deloitte, advised SMEs to research new government stimulus plans and private aid programs to help them get through this difficult time.
You can listen to the entire webinar here.
Please note that our second webinar series, Virtual Roundtable Discussion: Beyond Covid-19 webinar comes up on Saturday, May 9, and will focus on how professionals and entrepreneurs can adapt and thrive during the Covid-19 pandemic that has mostly limited their movement and resources.
Register here to join us: www.riseandleadwomen.com/
Ebere Akadiri is an accomplished entrepreneur and an advocate for women in leadership. Her passion to inspire others to achieve their goals drove her to found Rise and Lead Women along with her co-founder, Poonam Barua. Their mission is to inspire women to take the lead in closing the gender gap in workplaces and in business.