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African horticulture sectors hit hard by COVID-19

The horticulture sector in Ghana, Ivory Coast and Rwanda is highly affected by measures taken to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus. Incomes fell as export came to a halt. The main bottleneck now is lack of finance to invest in upcoming seasons. However, the COVID-19 crisis might trigger positive changes in the sector as well. These are among the outcomes of rapid sector assessments of Wageningen University & Research.

The export-oriented fruit sector in Ivory Coast and horticulture sector in Ghana are of considerable importance for the economy of these countries. In Rwanda, the horticulture sector has ambitions and potential to grow. Yet in all three countries the COVID-19 crisis had great impact on the sector.

Rapid assessments for action
This follows from the rapid assessments that Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation (WCDI), part of WUR, recently conducted in cooperation with stakeholders involved in the horticulture sector in Ghana, Ivory Coast and Rwanda. The assessments follow a profound methodology, in which sector experts participate in a survey, followed by more in-depth discussions in focus groups. The assessments identify current challenges and urgent action in the horticulture sector in Rwanda, Ghana and Ivory coast. The main recommendation from the rapid assessments – as formulated by key actors from the sector – is to improve access to finance following this crisis, to prevent worse.

Threats to future production seasons
In Ghana, restrictions in mobility led to a drop in exports of fruits and vegetables, alongside reduced demand in markets such as schools and hotels. Income of farmers and outgrowers decreased sharply. This threatens livelihoods and weakens resilience to future shocks. Due to a lower income, combined with a general lack of access to finance, farmers are hampered in purchasing inputs for the upcoming growing seasons. Irene Koomen, Senior Advisor Adaptive Agriculture at WCDI: “Weak spots in the food system that were already there, such as a lack of alignment in the sector, are becoming more visible and problematic now, due to the COVID-19 crisis."

Ivory Coast was hit hard too and faces similar issues as Ghana. Closure of the main French markets during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic stopped export of mangoes and other fruit. The result was a decrease in household income and operational capital, threatening livelihoods. As in Ghana, lack of income and limited purchasing power for inputs might well threaten the upcoming production seasons.

More cooperation can bring positive change
Decreasing incomes and limited funds to invest in upcoming seasons is an issue in Rwanda as well. Air freight stopped due to the Covid-19 crisis and produce could not be exported. Local markets collapsed. Edwin van der Maden, Adviser & Project Manager Horticulture at WCDI: “Horticulture is a risky business for many farmers, as incomes are fluctuating. This is aggravated by the COVID-19 crisis. Several horticultural producers might consider to turn to growing less risky crops now."

However, the crisis brings opportunities as well. Van der Maden: “The Rwandan government wants to promote horticulture. There were already plans to establish a governmental institute dedicated to horticulture development and coordination. The current situation proves the need for such an institute and might speed things up. Producing vegetable seeds in Rwanda instead of depending on importing seeds was also mentioned as a strategy to be more resilient to future sector disturbances and shocks."

In Ghana, more cooperation and alignment are needed in the sector as well, tells Irene Koomen. “Many people in the sector plea for a horticulture development authority. This could be the moment to speed up development of such a body."

Source: Wageningen University & Research

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