Food security in Africa during and after COVID-19

24 Jun 2020

By Hugue Nkoutchou

Availability of, access to and consumption of quality foods are necessary to the well-being of Africans. On average, 4 out of every 10 people live in extreme poverty with less than $1.90 a day in sub-Saharan Africa; 3/4 of their consumption budget is spent on food (World bank).

Sadly, the number of undernourished people is on the rise, estimated at a quarter of a billion Africans, or 1 out of every 5 people (UN-WFP). The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #2, that is zero hunger by 2030, maybe off-target. In part because of the combined effects of drought, floods, fall in oil price and that of other raw materials, conflict and locust invasions (FAO’s 2019 report). Droughts and floods are recurrent in the southern parts of Africa (average of 1,000 millimetres of rain falls per year – International Food Policy Research Institute), swarms of locusts in the east of Africa and conflicts are present in a dozen countries.

1. Strategies to achieve food security

Strategies developed by international organizations, governments and the private sector towards SDG #2 include: provide smallholders with seeds, fertilizer and pesticides; give the farmers access to relevant data on the climate and “silencing the guns” in conflict-affected areas. However, there are several barriers to food security that make it harder to dramatically reduce the number of people undernourished.

2. Barriers to food security

First, the shortage in electricity supply across Africa that stifles the food manufacturing process. Second, farm-to-market roads that are in poor condition. Up to 85% of roads are either unpaved or in a dire state in sub-Saharan Africa. As a result, a significant quantity of crops withers away!

Thirdly, a lack of subsidies (direct payments) to rural smallholders. They cannot afford agricultural inputs such as quality seeds and fertilizer in sufficient quantities (FAO). The livelihoods of a majority of sub-Saharan Africans who live in extreme poverty depend on agriculture.

3. Impact of Covid-19 pandemic on food security

Covid-19 is worsening the food security crisis in sub-Saharan Africa.  Because of the lockdown effects, the supply and demand of goods, transport and logistics are disrupted making it difficult to import staple foods such as rice, wheat and fish. This resulted in a decrease in the flow of remittances on which a large number of lower-income households rely. It is difficult to determine with a great degree of accuracy, how many people will be hungry due to Covid-19.  It depends on, among other things, how soon countries will reopen the economy and its effect on the oil price.

Oil represents 65% of Nigeria’s fiscal revenue and 60% for Angola’s (Standard Chartered). Currently, the barrel of Brent oil is around $40, in part due to Covid-19 impact on the demand. Nigeria has budgeted $57 a barrel for this year, and Angola $55. This shortage of revenue may affect social programs like the food-school-program in Nigeria’s public schools that cater to millions of children (5 out of every 10 people in Nigeria live in extreme poverty with less than $1.90 a day).

4. Recommendations

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated an already existing food crisis. Policy prescriptions to achieve zero hunger and to reverse the current trend should also be targeted at barriers to food security and Covid-19’s impact on Africa food and agriculture:

a) Increase competition among smallholders by building more farm-to-market roads connecting rural or agricultural areas to markets

b) Invest in renewable energy such as wind, solar and hydroelectric via public-private-partnerships to increase the supply of electricity and make it easy to produce and process food locally

c) Grant farm subsidies to smallholders in the form of direct payment per surface cultivated to keep the price of staple food such as maize (also a major feed grain) low

d) Diversify the economy away from oil while focusing on food production: Africa’s food market is estimated at $1trillion and intra-African trade is about 16% (AfDB).

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