State Of Africa: Food Security during the COVID-19 Pandemic

 Food insecurity is one of the major concerns throughout the continent.  According to the latest FAO report 256 million people remain hungry in Africa, an increase of 44 million over in 2014. Of the total undernourished population in 2018, 17 million are in Northern Africa and 239 million in sub-Saharan Africa. There are 399 million people who are moderately food insecure in the sub-Saharan Africa, i.e. they did not have regular access to nutritious and sufficient food, even if they were not necessarily suffering from hunger. According to WHO in Africa, it is estimated that one in five people is undernourished, and that 30% of children under five, approximately 59 million children, have stunted growth, greater than the global average of 21.9%. Wasting occurs in approximately 7.1% of children in Africa. Recent estimates of food insecurity have suggested that as many as 73 million people in Africa were acutely food insecure. 

Even long before the COVID-19 pandemic these severe food insecurity exists which is driven by climate change, economic shocks, conflict and wars, in areas such as Sahel region, the Horn of Africa, and southern Africa which is very much affected by the climate change, as a result most people are suffering from serious long term food insecurity. In East Africa inter-ethnics violence and armed conflicts causing instability and tension in the region, especially in South Sudan which results in a large refugee population in neighboring countries like Uganda. In West Africa, particularly in Nigeria the continent’s most populous country, the number of malnutrition approximately was more than 5 million in 2018 up by 180 percent over the past ten years.  In the year 2020 the locust outbreak is taking place in the Horn of Africa could result in $8.5 billion in crop and livestock damage, resulting reduced harvests which increase the food shortage in the region. Besides the region is facing adverse climate change. Moreover the refugee and displaced people are among the highly susceptible  people among the region. The current pandemic COVID-19 enhances the risks and vulnerability across the continent.

The supply chain in the region is affected by the lockdown, border closures and curfews. The pandemic makes it hard for markets to keep well stocked, and farmers lack the necessary agricultural inputs like seeds, feeds and fertilizers. This have a real impact on the African economy, where farming accounts for about 60 percent of total employment. Besides the continent is highly dependent on the imported food from overseas, for instance the continent imported more than 40 million tons of cereals in 2018. In the light of COVID-19, the major food exporting countries banned external travel and are also focusing on enhancing the national food stock up than exporting to the overseas. This results a supply shortage in the continent.

As a result of the pandemic, countries have been experiencing a huge economic depression which results in a decrease in the food purchasing power of the country. The lower purchasing power and the rise of the food price creates a huge food shortage which finally results in a severe food insecurity across the continent. On April 16 Ministers for Agriculture of African Union Member States publicly committed to minimizing food system disruptions and ensuring food security and nutrition for all their citizens especially the poorest and most vulnerable citizens during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. In their statement, the ministers urged governments to “prioritize the food and agriculture system as an essential service” and “recognize that all types of food systems—modern, traditional (open markets, small stores) and informal (street vendors)—play critical roles in serving different markets.” 

In 16 April 2020, The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the African Union (AU) and other international partners jointly declared their support to anable access to food and nutrition for Africa’s most vulnerable part of the society; providing Africans with social protection, minimizing disruptions to the safe movement and transport of essential people, and to the transport and marketing of goods and services; and finally keeping borders open on the continent for the food and agriculture trade. This agreement was adopted as AU and FAO and convened virtually. All 55 AU member states were represented, 45 at ministerial  level. The debate was moderated by Josefa Sacko, the AU Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture.

In the mean time it’s essential for African leaders and policy makers to step up and respond to food emergencies by distributing seeds for the upcoming harvest season for farmers that will be highly affected and will be hunger due to COVID-19. Mitigation strategies like enhancing food reserve of the country to supply in the case of future food emergencies are also wise. Moreover the AU member state countries should loosen restrict border closure rules which limits food availability in countries, especially to countries that are highly dependent on the imported foods, and keeping the inter-regional food supply chains.