Invasion of desert locusts, civil conflicts in parts of the West African region, and the global outbreak of COVID-19 pause a huge threat to Africa’s 2020 food security despite highly favorable climatic conditions in most parts of the continent.
According to the latest Food Security Monitor report by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), 2020 rainfall as already witnessed and forecasted in the East and West African regions indicate increased precipitation and wetter conditions (above normal rainfall) in most of the countries.
Such increased chances of above normal rainfall, says the report, presents favorable conditions for agricultural productivity despite chances of flooding especially in East African region, which may lead to post-harvest losses, and landslides that could lead to deaths and losses of property.
However, there exists a major threat. The unprecedented outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) that was first reported in China in November 2019 has since spread all over the world including nearly all countries in Africa. As a result, governments have instituted strict measures to contain the spread of the highly contagious viral disease.
The measures being implemented range from travel restrictions, mandatory quarantines, border closures and restrictions of entry to non-citizens. This has affected the food system in terms of supply and demand, the purchasing power of many of the poor who have lost their livelihoods and income sources has completely reduced, and the capacity to produce and distribute food within the poor and vulnerable communities has been the most affected.
According to the AGRA report, food supply disruptions might affect availability of food in the medium to long terms if at all the containment measures are prolonged. Authors of the report further note that the ongoing measures if prolonged would results in disruptions in production, processing and marketing of food supplies.
This is happening when the new cropping season is starting in East and West Africa while in Southern Africa the harvesting season is on-going.
Building resilient food systems is therefore critical to help countries withstand the threats of COVID-19 and other future shocks.
According to the report, innovative ways of getting health and food supplies to the affected and vulnerable remains critical across the continent. Social safety nets are therefore important to support the health and nutrition needs of the vulnerable populations.
The AGRA report calls for government regulation and transparency in ensuring efficient emergency response systems for the affected populations to receive adequate health and food requirements.
Above all, authors have pointed out that the private sector has an important role to play in supporting governments to ensure that health and food needs by the affected population are readily available, for example, through use of innovative e-commerce interventions to move health and food products from surplus regions to areas of need.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the East African region was already experiencing an upsurge of desert locust which according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is the worst in 25 years in Ethiopia and Somalia and the worst in 70 years in Kenya. This complicates the food security situation even further.
According to FAO, the desert locust situation is complex and extremely alarming. The locusts have so far spread within the Horn of Africa and East Africa and have affected southern Kenya, northern Tanzania, northeast Uganda, southeast South Sudan and northeast D.R. Congo.
About 9.5 million people living in the most affected areas in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are currently or projected to experience serious food crises despite the season rainfall forecasts indicating favorable crop growing conditions with a projection of good harvests.
The worst case scenario given the available information (although not considered likely – according to AGRA experts) is that desert locust will cause significant crop losses during the 2020 main and secondary season leading to below-average harvests and thereafter cause major losses of pasture and browse in arid and semi-arid regions resulting in dire food security outlook.
AGRA authors further observed that crop production in parts of the West African region has been constrained by civil insecurity and localized dry weather conditions.
Countries expected to experience localized shortfalls in cereal production due to unfavorable seasonal rainfall include Carbon, Cape Verde, the Gambia, Mauritania and Senegal.
In addition, persisting insecurity and large-scale population displacements are affecting agricultural activities in northeast Nigeria, the Lake Chad Basin, the Lac and Tibesti regions of Chad, northern and central Mali and the Liptako Gourma region that include parts of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.
Outbreaks of Fall Armyworm and locusts have also contributed to crop losses in countries such as Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.
Despite the above-average 2019 cereal production in West Africa, food insecurity levels have remained high particularly in conflict-affected northern Nigeria, Lake Chad Basin and Liptako Gourma region.
So far, different countries are working on different policy interventions as a way of tackling the multifaceted challenges that are currently threatening to worsen food security on a continent that is already food insecure.