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What is the Food Security Impact of COVID-19 in African Countries?

By Wayan Vota on August 20, 2020

african economy covid-19

The novel coronavirus pandemic has an immense impact on healthcare across the African continent.  South Africa in particular has become a viral hot spot, with over 600,000 cases of COIV-19 and 12,000 deaths.

COVID-19 is also impacting economic livelihoods across the continent. The World Bank estimates that agricultural production in Africa could contract by 7%, directly impacting family incomes and their investment in education, health, and other necessities. Many poor and marginalized communities across the developing world may now fear hunger as a greater or more immediate threat than the coronavirus.

What is COVID-19’s Food Security Impact in Africa?

Viamo asked 1,500 users of their 3-2-1 Service in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Malawi, Rwanda, and Tanzania a set of 12 separate questionnaires, each addressing a specific COVID-related topic, including:

  • Knowledge of COVID-19;
  • Attitudes towards the pandemic;
  • Preventive behaviors;
  • Impact on food security, income

Here are 4 key takeaways on food security and economic impacts from their survey conducted in May 2020, a subset of findings from their full survey results.

economic impact covid-19

1) COVID-19 has hit households’ finances significantly. 41% claim minor to major reductions in income across the six countries. The causes are varied; lockdown policies are affecting 34% of respondents, while business operations, restricted work hours, loss of customers and loss of job impact 16% of households.

2) The food security situation is alarming. 28% of the population surveyed had to reduce portion sizes and more than 22% had to skip meals in the last 7 days. This points to nearly a quarter of households surveyed struggling to meet the most basic needs, and likely points to negative consequences in terms of health, education, and well-being.

3) Access to basic supplies such as food and soap is a serious issue. 53% of households report challenges. The main causes appear to be elevated item prices (44%) and item availability (33%), as opposed to lock-down policies (11%) or fear of contagion (12%).

4) The potential impact of lost income is considerable. 32% of respondents indicated that if they were to lose all income they would only have the ability to pay for essentials like food and rent for less than one week. Another 33% indicated that they have less than one month of savings to fall back on. This has important implications for how long a lock-down can be sustained.

How is COVID-19 Impacting Rural Communities?

In March, as Kenya shut down much of its economy due to COVID-19, the General Equilibrium research team started surveying 11,000 households in Western Kenya that received GiveDirectly unconditional cash transfers 5 years ago.

Their survey results are a unique opportunity to hear directly from rural residents in an African country on:

  • How has COVID-19 affected a rural, developing economy?
  • How deep is the COVID-19 recession, and how is it changing over time?
  • How are rural families living in poverty affected by the pandemic?

skipped meals covid-19

2) When businesses close, workers lose jobs. Before the pandemic, roughly 2% of people would lose their jobs in a given month in this region. During the pandemic months of March and April, layoffs spike, with up to 8% losing their jobs (mostly due to businesses closing)

3) Families are earning less. Shuttered businesses are affecting household income as wage earnings drop abruptly at the beginning of the lockdown.

4) Families are buying less food. Over the first 8 weeks of the lockdown, spending on food drops by 45% compared to the pre-COVID average. The number of days children miss meals doubles.

Where is Food Insecurity a Serious Problem?

Food shocks in Nigeria threaten to exacerbate food insecurity, particularly in the north where continued political instability and rising violence is exacerbating the COVID-19 pandemic and leading to an impending rice shortage. We can use the Fraym Localized Food Insecurity Index for Zamfara State to find 100,000 people that are living in households relying heavily rice production for food and income, at risk for food insecurity.

covid-19 food insecurity

Communities between Talata Mafara and Bakura score between 80 and 85 on Fraym’s Index, or 10 to 15 points higher than the state average of 69 as rice prices have risen more than 15% between March and June 2020. Households in these communities will have their food purchasing power diminished while import restrictions prevent farmers from obtaining inputs to plant rice, such as fertilizer and seeds.

Further, with tensions escalating due to farmer-herder conflicts and increasing infiltration from Islamic extremists in northern Nigeria, this instability will only serve to increasingly disrupt planting and harvesting cycles. Securing market access and providing food aid relief to these households will be critical to reducing the destructive impact of COVID-19-induced food insecurity.

What is AgTech’s COVID-19 Digital Response?

Food security and food system disruptions have a much larger economic impact in Africa where farming accounts for 60% of total employment. Agriculture technology and knowledge management solutions offer intriguing potential for COVID-19 Digital Response.

Across the continent, several initiatives are introducing new practices, improving access to inputs, reducing barriers to finance, and increasing resilience of smallholder farmers and their agricultural value chains. For example:

What ICT4Ag innovations are you working on that can support smallholder farmers today? Or which interventions excite you about their potential? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks and is the Digital Health Director at IntraHealth International. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of IntraHealth International or other ICTWorks sponsors.
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9 Comments to “What is the Food Security Impact of COVID-19 in African Countries?”

  1. Hello everyone,
    This survey is a true reflection of what is indeed on the ground. Thanks.
    Regards.

  2. John Lamb says:

    Well done. Many thanks

  3. Natasha says:

    I would really like to know what is going on in Malawi Fig. 1 in which the majority of respondents said their income “increased a lot”.

  4. Wycliff says:

    In east Africa,

    Food security is a concern not because of natural causes but rather man made. There is less motivation to produce where market reach is devoured by cartels that want to make more than the farmer.
    We need a farm to market/plate solution.

  5. Leah Newman says:

    Thank you for your question. In Malawi, where there was no lockdown or restriction of movement, trade, or commerce, and where it was harvest season at the time of this survey, we saw the opposite result. Since many users of the 3-2-1 Service are farmers, they were experiencing seasonal increase in income due to crop sales that were unrelated to COVID-19. Respondents may have misunderstood that the question was in reference to coronavirus and were simply reporting their seasonal increase in income.

    The full report can be found here: https://viamo.io/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/3-2-1-Service-COVID-19-Survey-Food-Security-Economic-Impacts.pdf

  6. Philemon says:

    This is indeed great effort in highlighting the blind spots of the impact of COVID_19. Here is link of similar output in Kenyan pastoral areas: https://www.povertyactionlab.org/blog/8-12-20/pastoralism-covid-19-era.
    I am sure the end game will see many communities overcome the impacts of COVID.

  7. Mark Tsang says:

    I’m working for AgUnity that uses blockchain to engender trust in the transactions between smallholding farmers and their co-op. Using similar technology, AgUnity Response is supporting the same farmers get their products to market in a Covid Safe manner by enabling a digital supply chain.

  8. Thanks to you all for the ideology and hope something is done to calm some of the many problems faced by farmers across the globe as COVID has interrupted our entire world.

    Liberia is not of exception as our farm activities are done in group called “coupe” especially in our local setting or rural places.
    Prior to this, as you are aware, Ebola also broke down farming activities and now worsen by the present condition.
    Henceforth, as we move forward in helping to alleviating or reducing the problems,; a lots of awareness, support and training will be required rather than just providing materials or seeds and tools so as to put back the broken pieces.

    From our end in Liberia as a small institution, we are working and training local farmers as harvest is getting close.
    Further on this, we can provide some more of information required if need be.

  9. Muvondori Maxwell says:

    Am working for ZICOPE TRUST an NGO in Zimbabwe Masvingo Province. We are focusing on rehabilitation of Mushandike irrigation scheme. Which is a small holder farm irrigation scheme. We provide fancing, rehabilitation of canals and dam scooping.