SEATTLE, Washington — The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an economic shock across the globe. To curtail the virus, governments are restricting movement and supply chains. As a result, many industries such as airlines, hotels and retail have suffered. However, as the virus spreads, global agricultural systems suffer as demand decreases for restaurants and commercial food services. As governments continue to increase restrictions, the declining supply of labor hinders farmers from processing and storing food. As such, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and agricultural ministers are working to tackle food insecurity in Africa.
Food Security in Africa
Before COVID-19, food security in Africa was already a significant issue, especially for sub-Saharan Africa. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, 239 million people in the region were undernourished in 2018. Prior to the pandemic, these food shortages were due to economic downturns, climate crises and political conflicts.
Locust swarms have also devastated crops in Eastern Africa, making the continent more dependent on externally sourced food. The unexpected outbreak has also disrupted food systems and food distribution channels, disproportionally affecting vulnerable populations.
Most African countries rely heavily on food imports. As such, millions of people are at risk of not getting the food necessary for survival. First, scarcity drives up the prices of staple foods to the point where many disadvantaged groups can no longer afford it.
Noting that sub-Saharan Africa is the world’s largest rice-importing region, the World Bank warns that this could negatively affect food security in Africa.
Second, essential suppliers, including India, Vietnam and Cambodia, have reduced or even banned rice exports to ensure that citizens have enough food and resources to fight the pandemic.
African governments have also implemented many restrictions such as border closures, lockdowns and curfews to slow the spread of the COVID-19 and keep people safe. Unfortunately, this disrupts supply chains by restricting domestic movement and delaying imports. Quarantine measures have also caused labor shortages, especially since international labor movements and worker programs are critical to agricultural production in some sectors.
Domestic food crops such as millet, sorghum and maize are experiencing shortages and price spikes, which exacerbate the low purchasing power among rural and urban consumers.
Thankfully, the alarming issue of food security in Africa has not gone unnoticed. Ministers for agriculture of African Union member states urged nations to “prioritize the food and agriculture system as an essential service,” which led other countries and organizations to recognize the issue and take action against food insecurity in Africa.
NGOs are also working to fight famine in sub-Saharan Africa, including CARE and Action Against Hunger and the United Nations World Food Programme. Although there is still much more that can be done, government efforts and nonprofit work are setting the right path toward alleviating famine in Africa’s vulnerable regions.