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Food security in Africa during COVID-19

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 by 44 million from 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 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 percent of children under five – approximately 59 million children – have stunted growth, greater than the global average of 21.9 percent. Wasting occurs in approximately 7.1 percent 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 affected by the climate change as a result most people are suffering in a serious food insecurity that lasts long. In East Africa, inter-ethnic violence and armed conflicts is causing instability and tension in the region, especially in south Sudan, which resulted in the migration of a large refugee population to neighboring countries like Uganda and Ethiopia. In West Africa, particularly in Nigeria the continent’s most populous country, the number of malnutrition is approximately more than five million in 2018 – up by 180 percent over the past ten years. In the year 2020 locust outbreak that takes place in the Horn of Africa could result in USD 8.5 billion in crop and livestock damage, resulting in reduced harvests which increase the food shortage in the region. Besides, the region is facing an adverse climate change. Moreover, the refugee and displaced people are among the highly susceptible people among the region. The current COVID-19 pandemic enhances the risks and vulnerability across the continent.

The supply chain in the region is affected by lockdowns, border closures and curfews. The pandemic makes 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 bans the external travels and also focusing on enhancing the national food stock up than exporting to the overseas. This results in supply shortage in the continent. As a result of the pandemic the countries have experiencing a huge economic depression which results in decreasing 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 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 – 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.”

On April 16, 2020, in Rome, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the African Union (AU) and other international partners jointly declared on supporting 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 keeping borders open on the continent for food and agriculture products’ trade. This agreement has been adopted by the AU and FAO at a virtual meeting. All 55 AU member states were represented – 45 at ministerial level. This debate was moderated by Josefa Sacko, AU Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture,

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

Ed.’s Note: The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. The writer can be reached at [email protected].

Contributed by Lidiya Kehale

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