Giving Compass' Take:

• Jennifer Blanke discusses the ways in which COVID-19 has impacted Africa's food systems and threatened food security. 

• What role can you play in increasing resiliency in Africa's food system?

• Learn how CSR can help build a more resilient food system

The global spread of COVID-19 and the rising number of confirmed cases in Africa have raised concerns about the weak health care systems in the region, while the lockdowns have caused economies to contract substantially. Receiving less public attention, and yet also putting at risk lives and livelihoods, is the likelihood that COVID-19 and the associated economic challenges will spill into an African food crisis if the food system cannot cope. Half of Africans already face food insecurity, of which 50 percent are severely food insecure, while the number of people who are hungry is likely to double in 2020.

The continent is already grappling with food security challenges. Locust swarms in the Horn of Africa, regional insecurity and conflict, climate-change-related droughts and flooding are destroying crops and the livelihoods of millions of African smallholder farmers. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic potentially undermines the capacity of both short-term production and distribution. The challenge for Africa, during and after the coronavirus crisis, is to identify and rally around priority areas in order to accelerate a more rapid transformation of the food system.

Africa is a huge net food importer, at a cost of more than $47 billion in 2018. The recent devaluation of several African currencies, combined with declining commodity prices, has put further stress on African countries’ capacity to ensure food and nutrition security.

Several countries saw food prices spike initially due to panic buying, transport restrictions, and rising prices of food imports. In Zimbabwe, South Sudan, and Sudan, prices continue to increase substantially—driven by overall tight food supplies, and disruptions to trade flows and market function related to COVID-19. COVID-19-related transport restrictions make it particularly difficult for suppliers to get such inputs as seeds, fertilizers, crop protection products, equipment, and animal feed to rural farmers in time for planting season, disrupting production of staples such as rice, maize, and vegetables. Restrictions are also triggering additional higher post-harvest losses, as unsold and rotting food accumulates on farms.

Demand from Asian, European, and U.S. markets for agricultural exports, which make up a significant share of many African countries’ GDP, has also been affected by falling consumer spending.

In African cities, the informal sector forms the backbone of the economy and provides most employment. Pandemic-related lockdowns are taking a significant toll on informal businesses, aggravated by an effective freeze on travel and tourism that risks pushing many families into poverty.

Read the full article about COVID-19 and Africa's food systems by Jennifer Blanke at Brookings.