The COVID-19 crisis has triggered an unprecedented homegrown response in Africa. There has been an outpouring of corporate philanthropy and community solidarity: for example, South Africa\u2019s\u00a0Solidarity Fund\u00a0and Nigeria\u2019s\u00a0Private Sector Coalition Against COVID-19\u00a0(CACOVID). Large gifts complement a deluge of giving from private individuals and small businesses to cushion the socio-economics impact of social distancing measures \u2014 quarantines, curfews, lockdowns \u2014 on the poor. The private sector has created an impact that African governments could never have achieved alone. But both corporate and government action to curb the spread of COVID-19 are focused on urban centres and momentary humanitarian relief. It\u2019s too early for a full accounting of aid efforts. But I see through my work with businesses at Lagos Business School that responses to the crisis concentrate on providing food aid and cash grants to mainly urban households. The battle against the virus will be won or lost in the continent\u2019s poorest communities, which are most vulnerable to COVID, and it\u2019s a long-term struggle.\u00a0In deploying solutions and support, businesses should focus particularly on those being left behind, such as poor rural farmers. Businesses should also address core structural challenges which predate COVID-19 and worsen its impact now. How poor communities are vulnerable to COVID-19 A torn social fabric in Africa increases COVID-19\u2019s impact. Most Africans live precariously at $1.90 a day. In Nigeria, for example, 90 million people \u2014 roughly half of the population \u2014 live in extreme poverty. Their living conditions further fuel COVID-19 transmission. Sixty per cent of the continent\u2019s population \u2014 587 million Africans \u2014 live in overcrowded and unsanitary urban slums, such as\u00a0Alexandra,\u00a0Makoko, and\u00a0Kibera. Here the social distancing needed to fight COVID-19 is impossible to enact, and\u00a0informal sector workers balk\u00a0against lockdowns which bar them from eking out a living. Rural poverty is even more dire. The poor in the countryside mostly live without access to critical health, education, energy and telecommunications infrastructure. Natural disasters and broad economic trends\u00a0also limit\u00a0the productivity, income and food security of the poor, most of whom are farmers. Perpetually neglected, the rural areas have found their only support in dealing with COVID-19 coming from community-based self-help associations. (As an example, MANSAM, a coalition of grassroots women\u2019s organizations and civil society groups, enacted a \u201cSudan Against Corona\u201d campaign: making masks, donating supplies, distributing posters with essential information, and raising awareness about the virus through social media.) Africa\u2019s young population may seem a significant protective barrier in this pandemic. As the current pandemic has traversed Asia, Europe, and North America, people over 60 years of age have suffered the most severe cases of COVID-19. The median age in Africa is 19 years. However, widespread malnutrition, anaemia, malaria and tuberculosis in African nations may result in a higher incidence of severe forms of COVID-19 in younger patients. These immunity-suppressing conditions combine with weak public health infrastructure and the exodus of doctors to the West to create a perilous situation. Rethink CSR in a pandemic I have seen through my work with businesses at the\u00a0Lagos Business School Sustainability Centre that businesses\u2019 corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives tend to be small-scale, individual efforts. These activities do not address challenges in a holistic way or bring the breadth of resources and expertise needed. Only a handful of businesses, main multinationals such as Unilever and Coca Cola, will have sustainability frameworks which attempt to take a systemic and long-term view of the social problems they are trying to address. Recently, some large businesses have launched collaborative associations such as the\u00a0Africa Plastics Recycling Alliance\u00a0and the\u00a0Private Sector Advisory Group; these are vehicles for collective action on key sustainable development issues, from plastic pollution to malnutrition. The usual CSR dynamic seems to be operating with responses to COVID-19: businesses are generally going it alone under their own logos and deploying fragmented solutions. For a long time, businesses have needed to pursue long-term, systems-focused, and collaborative engagement to address structural poverty and related sustainable development challenges. The harm caused by COVID-19 is enabled by pre-existing challenges such as food insecurity, poor housing, lack of access to quality healthcare and youth unemployment. Here is what this needed approach might look like in the area of food security. Longstanding food insecurity is worsened by COVID-19 COVID-19 has exacerbated existing food insecurity, which already affected\u00a0one-fifth of the population\u00a0in sub-Saharan Africa. Food security\u00a0exists\u00a0\u201cwhen all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.\u201d African agriculture centres on smallholder farms, which have long experienced underinvestment and poor productivity. Farmers face challenges accessing many fundamental resources, including quality inputs (seeds and fertilizer), education through agricultural extension services, financing, storage, logistics and transport. Here\u2019s an example of how this plays out. African countries \u2014 Cameroon, Ghana, Malawi and Nigeria \u2014 produce more than half of the world\u2019s cassava, a staple crop. However, 30 \u2013 40 per cent of the total cassava harvest goes to waste in the absence of appropriate facilities to store this highly perishable crop post-harvest. Meanwhile,\u00a0huge locust swarms\u00a0destroyed a swath of farmland across eight East African nations. COVID-related lockdowns have interrupted these already fragile food production and distribution systems. Farmers are unable to sell their crops, deepening their poverty and leading to greater dependence on external food imports. But these imports are no longer forthcoming due to COVID-related food export restrictions in supplier countries such as Vietnam and India. The resulting scarcity has made staple foods too costly for many households, leading to increased undernutrition. Businesses can strengthen the food value chain Momentary humanitarian assistance has value in light of immediate food security challenges. But CSR programming and investment should focus on strengthening the food value chain from its roots in mainly rural farms to the table. Businesses, particularly those in the financial sector as well as the food and beverage industry, can through both CSR initiatives and investments: \t expand financing opportunities for the farmers \t create access to appropriate training in, and tools for, agricultural best practices \t investing in logistics, transportation and storage systems \t enable greater access to retail markets at fair prices. \u00a0These efforts should scale the hopeful experiments of social enterprises such as the\u00a0One Acre Fund\u00a0in East Africa and\u00a0Babban Gona in West Africa. These social enterprises have business models grounded in rural economies which link the expertise and resources of businesses with government agencies, community groups, multinational food buyers, and international development partners. Farmers are able to boost their productivity by leveraging high-quality inputs (seeds, fertilizer etc.), agricultural training, and logistical support to get their goods to market. Boosted farm income supports household consumption and other activities. This refocusing of attention and resources can enable Africans to make it out of the current food security crisis and build resilience towards a sustainable future. The coronavirus crisis teaches us that it is essential for companies to take a long-term view and systemic approach to addressing poverty, to forge new corporate alliances and inclusive business models for the common good, and to disrupt and transform failing systems of public service provision and value creation. Dr Ijeoma Nwagwu teaches Sustainability and Strategy at Lagos Business School. This article was first published on the\u00a0Network for Business Sustainability\u00a0website.