Dr. Mabouba Diagne of the ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development talks to COVID-19 Africa Watch about the lessons of COVID-19 for improving food security in the West Africa region.
The following are a few of the main takeaways from COVID-19 Africa Watch’s conversation with Dr. Mabouba Diagne, Vice President of Finance and Corporate Services, ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development:
- COVID-19 has been a wake-up call. Despite abundant arable land and water, African lands are still depend on imports for food products themselves as well as essential agricultural inputs.
- To address this problem, the ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development is currently in discussion with the West African Fertilizer Association to raise financing for building a fertilizer blending plant in West Africa’s coastal countries, and to build agri-input reserve warehouses.
- Building agricultural infrastructure and working towards regional or national independence when it comes to food security, food access, and food self-sufficiency, has become a must for African countries.
- Looking ahead, countries have an opportunity to make sure that the agricultural landscape changes, is modernized, and is community-backed to create jobs and opportunities for youth and women. African countries should strive to produce not only the food that Africa needs, but also to export in order to diversify their economies.
The interview was conducted by Ahmed Aboshock, an IFC-Milken Institute Capital Market Scholar from the Central Bank of Sudan. A transcript is available below.
My name is Ahmed Aboshock, and I am an IFC-Milken Institute Scholar from Central Bank of Sudan. Today with us, we have Dr. Mabouba Diagne, Vice President of Finance and Corporate Services at the ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development. EBID is the investment bank established by 15 members of ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States.
For several decades now, food insecurity has been a serious concern in the world, and especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. The COVID-19 pandemic arose as a health crisis, but also as a threat to the food security and nutrition of 130 million people, half of them in Africa. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, the African Union, and international partners today describe the food and agriculture system as an essential service that must continue to operate during periods of lockdown, emergency curfew, and other containment measures, especially after these measures have been implemented by a majority of Sub-Saharan African countries.
Dr. Diagne, thank you for being with us today. Can you tell us about the response to safeguard your region of Africa regarding food security in the context of the many lockdowns during COVID-19 pandemic? What role does the ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development play in this space?
Dr. Mabouba Diagne
First of all, I think that COVID-19 has been a wake-up call for the entire continent of Sub-Saharan Africa. As you know, we import a lot to feed our population, although we have arable land and water. If I take the case for West Africa, we import a lot of rice, we import even cooking oil, we import so many food items including agriculture inputs like urea fertilizer. And I think that COVID-19 has shown the fundamental weaknesses of Africa, still depending on abroad to feed our population.
At BIDC, which is the bank of investment and development of ECOWAS under the leadership of President Dr. George Donkor and myself, we have decided to provide unconditional support and a very strong response to support the countries, not only on food security, but also on production and self-sufficiency of food. And as we speak, we are currently in very advanced conversations with the West African Fertilizer Association for structuring and raising $200 million to $400 million for building a fertilizer blending plant in the coastal countries. We are also putting together what I will call agri-input reserve warehouses, to build food reserves across the region. These are the very immediate responses and as we speak, in the next four to six months, this is a financing that we would like to unlock with the West African Fertilizer Association and with ECOWAS Agri commission in response to support the countries and also to implement the Heads of States’ recommendation post-COVID-19.
Regarding the evolution of food demand and prices since February 2020, how do you analyze the effects of the pandemic today?
Dr. Mabouba Diagne
You know, Africa depends a lot on the African diaspora sending remittances. COVID-19’s impact on the diaspora remittance has been significantly adverse. The fact is that people could not trade freely, cross-border trade has been impacted a lot. And we know that intra-Africa trade and the cross-border food trade in Africa is significant, especially in West Africa. And this has caused a huge perturbation in the flow of goods between the countries. This has negatively impacted the access to food. I feel that if we don’t respond proactively with speed there will be a lot of hunger in the ECOWAS region.
What opportunities are there for African countries after COVID-19 in terms of transforming food production and supply systems?
Dr. Mabouba Diagne
Look, I think that the experience has shown that we cannot, and we should not continue relying on importing our food. It is a very, very important that we start having a regional or national independence when it comes to food security, food access, and food self-sufficiency. It’s not acceptable for any country to depend on imports from abroad to feed your own population. It has become a sovereignty issue. Some people may say that we don’t have the financial resources, but I doubt it. We have enough access to central bank reserves that today are sitting in other countries that we can bring back, to build agricultural infrastructure in order to feed our people. It has become a must for the region. It has become a must for Africa to produce to feed our own population.
What is your prediction on the evolution of food security in Africa, in the future, and what are your recommendations to avoid food security crises on the continent?
Dr. Mabouba Diagne
Giving an exact dollar number on the impact may be hard, but I can guarantee you that it’s going to be a very, very severe negative impact.
“For me we don’t have any other choice than making sure that the agricultural landscape and the way we do agriculture changes, is modernized, is community-backed to create jobs and opportunities for the youth and women, in order to be able to produce not only the food that we need, but also to export in order to diversify our economy.”
Now, how should we react? For me we don’t have any other choice than making sure that the agricultural landscape and the way we do agriculture changes, is modernized, is community-backed to create jobs and opportunities for the youth and women, in order to be able to produce not only the food that we need, but also to export in order to diversify our economy. The experience and the lessons learnt have shown that even big countries like Nigeria, oil producing countries like Angola, cannot continue relying on those natural resources. Agriculture is definitely one of the drivers of our GDP, one of the drivers of the economy that we should push, modernize, make sure that we produce enough to feed our people, and produce enough to export in order to diversify our economy.
The Milken Institute and I thank you again for these insights. Please keep up the great work, goodbye and stay safe.
Dr. Mabouba Diagne
Thank you so much.
COVID-19 Africa Watch tracks major developments and policy announcements from across the continent and also offers a curated selection of analysis on how the pandemic will impact African economies and development efforts. The site is a project of the Milken Institute’s Global Market Development Practice.