The study, titled COVID-19 implications on household income and food security in Kenya and Uganda: Findings from a rapid assessment, found the proportion of food insecure respondents increased by 38 percent in Kenya and 44 percent in Uganda.
The agricultural economists who conducted the study explains that the situation in Kenya was made worse by disruptions in regional markets, given the high ratio of food imports to domestic production.
Executive Director of the Center for Food and Adequate Living Rights, David Kabanda, said that while the current 42-day Uganda lockdown may help slow the spread of the new coronavirus variants, it will do little to improve the country’s food insecurity status quo.
“The lockdown has exacerbated an already difficult situation”, he said. “The money being promised to vulnerable groups within the population may help in the short-term but it will not extricate many out of their food insecurity woes.
”Greater efforts will be needed throughout the region to address food insecurity. The governments of Kenya and Uganda should improve agriculture input supply chains to mitigate the pandemic’s impact on agricultural production.”
Disturbingly, Uganda is again facing the specter of inflation, supply disruptions, higher prices for staple foods and hunger as the country endures the 42-day lockdown to halt a deadly second wave of the pandemic.
Concerns are now being raised that without significant government interventions, the entire East African region could suffer chronic food insecurity due to disruptions in agricultural production and markets, drought, unemployment, the pandemic and conflict. Farmers and the urban poor are especially hard hit.
A June 2021-January 2022 FEWS NET food security outlook report indicates that Uganda’s farmers are now getting lower farm gate prices, especially for staple perishables like cooking bananas, horticultural commodities and poultry products. Farmers who supply food to urban areas reportedly are earning less income than usual from crop sales due to low prices, limiting their ability to access other non-food needs.
FEWS NET, Famine Early Warning Systems Network, is a leading provider of early warning and analysis on acute food insecurity around the world. Created in 1985 by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in response to devastating famines in East and West Africa, FEWS NET provides unbiased, evidence-based analysis to governments and relief agencies who plan for and respond to humanitarian crises.
FEWS NET analyses support resilience and development programming as well. FEWS NET analysts and specialists work with scientists, government ministries, international agencies, and NGOs to track and publicly report on conditions in the world’s most food-insecure countries.
Already, 13 counties in Western Kenya, all of which are grappling with spikes in new coronavirus cases, are facing the same adverse outcomes as the tight government containment measures instituted in June continue.
Like other African countries, Uganda has been experiencing an unprecedented surge in COVID-19 infections and deaths, principally fueled by a populace that has grown lax in observing health protocols and the spread of new highly transmissible variants.
The Delta variant accounts for 97 percent of samples sequenced in Uganda, which currently has 87,227 confirmed cases and 2,104 deaths, according to the WHO Africa regional office. The situation is worse in Kenya, where statistics from the health ministry confirm 187,525 cases and 3,716 deaths.
In 2020, when the pandemic’s first wave hit, the two East African countries imposed strict transport restrictions that substantially disrupted food and commodity supply chain links between their rural and urban areas, creating serious food security risks. Joshua Opita, an agricultural and livelihoods expert, told the Alliance for Science that people in both countries were pushed into food insecure zones.
“For the most part that state of affairs played out in informal urban settlements where thousands who rely on daily income sources to purchase food reside”, he said.
A 2020 analysis by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, an innovative multi-partner initiative for improving food security, nutrition analysis and decision-making, showed that 17 percent of Kampala’s 3.5 million residents, or 292,330 people, experienced adverse levels of acute food insecurity and had increasing food consumption gaps and reduced dietary mixture. Kampala is Uganda’s capital city. The initiative’s August-December 2020 analysis for Kenya indicated that 6 percent of the population, or 852,000 people, faced acute food insecurity.
In the days following Uganda’s most recent lockdown, fears grew among sections of the country’s poor that the negative impacts of the first COVID-19 lockdown would reoccur. Their fears were soon realized.
In the districts of Kampala and Wakiso, which have been the epicenters of Uganda’s deadly second wave, the price of staple foods like tomatoes, cabbage, cassava, yam, rice and corn flour, among others, skyrocketed immediately after the lockdown took effect.
According to Opita, “the most significant shock was a price hike. Food prices shot up, but at length, they have come down, drastically. Profitability at various food markets has been affected as the purchasing power of the urban poor and rural consumers reduces.
”As a direct consequence, food traders and producers, particularly those who supply food to urban food markets, have been getting low profits. With retail outlets closed, many of the country’s food producers are also hard-pressed in getting the requisite inputs for their farms.”
In the first weeks following the imposition of the lockdown, Kampala also witnessed running battles between the country’s security forces and apprehensive businessmen. Many of the businessmen, whose shops had been closed, argued that the new lockdown would play havoc with their incomes, thus affecting their ability to provide food for their families.
Analysts say the traders may have been speaking for hundreds of the country’s underprivileged urbanities, including the informal and transport sector employees and youth, who are at loose ends as they wait for financial support from the Ugandan government.
Each individual designated as vulnerable will not get relief food rations, as was the case last year, but cash to the tune of sh100,000 ($28). A total of 501,107 people are expected to receive the bailouts, with the first recipients getting payments on July 8.
Executive Director of the Food Rights Alliance, Agnes Kirabo, takes issue with the government’s cash intervention. “These cash transfers will be a short-term emergency response and short-term interventions, such as food rations, can only be effective if there are long-term investments in building strategic food reserves”, she said, adding, “what the country needs are medium-term and long-term interventions, without which the current food security situation may become permanent.”
An agribusiness expert, Peter Businda, concurs saying, “the money set aside by the Ugandan government does not commensurate with the needs of most of the country’s urban dwellers. Most urban households have between three and six members and besides food, they have other expenses.
”To that end, the money earmarked for the households will not suffice unless the government is telling vulnerable households to cut down on their food consumption by having one meal a day and purchasing non-nutritious foods of poor quality that will last till the next disbursement. This is because this pandemic is not about to end soon.”
Several food security monitoring groups, such as the Africa Food Trade and Resilience Initiative and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), contend that East Africa will remain a food insecurity hotspot as new COVID-19 variants continue to spread.
In the 2021 food security monitor edition 13, which provides an overview assessment of the food security outlook in East, West and Southern Africa, AGRA contends that East Africa will remain in a crisis food security situation, driven by below-average agriculture production, below-average rainfall, ongoing conflicts and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The June 2021-January 2022 FEWS NET-Kenya Food Security Outlook Update indicates that poor households in the country’s 13 counties that are under lockdown will face increased food insecurity and reduced food access due to declining employment and income-generating opportunities.
Executive Director of the Southern and Eastern Africa Trade, Information and Negotiations Institute in Uganda, Jane Nalunga, is arguing that the situation will get worse, especially in urban areas. “With other waves on the horizon, the number of food-insecure people in the region will likely triple and the situation may be worse than it was last year”, she said.
Does the worsening food insecurity around the world present countries with options to care about the UN Food Systems Summit?
On October 16, 2019, UN Secretary General, António Guterres, announced plans to organise an extraordinary global Food Systems Summit to deliberate on the future of the world’s food systems. A pre-summit took place in Rome, with the full summit set for September.
Described as a “solutions summit for everyone everywhere — a people’s summit,” the high-level meeting was intended to awaken the world’s citizens and encourage them to cooperate in transforming the way food is produced and consumed across the globe.
The meeting was deemed necessary because the world is not on track to meet the UN’s “zero hunger” Sustainable Development Goal (SDG), as well as the other SDGs, by 2030 unless drastic actions are taken. Participants will deliberate on and launch bold, new actions to help deliver progress on all 17 SDGs, each of which relies to some degree on the goal of achieving zero hunger.
Ahead of the summit, the UN has invited organisations, countries and international bodies to hold public dialogues that generate ideas that will eventually feed into the decisions at the summit.
People within different communities have found their own ways, through dialogue, to deepen their appreciation of each other’s perspectives, to consider different opinions and to seek agreement where possible. The Food Systems Summit Dialogues enable a standardised approach for the convening, curation, and facilitation of purposeful and organised events that encourage a broad and diverse range of stakeholders come together and share their experiences of food systems.
Through dialogue, people will consider how their roles impact on those of others and seek out ways to improve or transform food systems so they are suitable both for people and planet. They provide an inclusive and supportive venue for debate, collaboration, consensus-building, and shared commitment making.
The dialogues are prepared and convened so that they welcome participants and enable them to engage purposefully with open exchanges. The dialogues convene a diversity of stakeholders; at all times incorporating Food Systems Summit Principles of Engagement. The dialogues are carefully curated and facilitated in order to help participants explore convergences and differences.
They are designed to offer informed, and constructive feedback for use in the preparation of the Summit. They also offer valuable insights for shaping pathways to sustainable food systems by 2030: they will be useful after the Summit.
In summary, these dialogues contribute to shaping the pathways which will lead to equitable and sustainable food systems by 2030. They will also be valuable to the different work streams preparing for the Food Systems Summit: the Action Tracks, Scientific Groups and Champions as well as for other Dialogues.
The success of a Food Systems Summit Dialogue depends primarily on the participants and the ways in which they interact with each other. They achieve this through exchanges, in Discussion Groups, which: Include diverse actors from across the entirety of food systems; follow the summit’s principles of engagement; discuss long-term visions for sustainable food systems; encourage sharing of reflections, building on knowledge, experience and wisdom; reflect the consensus and divergence that emerges among the participants; and identify priorities for action within the context of current realities.
The Dialogues approach enables participants to: Listen to each other; welcome diverse perspectives; seek out new connections; explore both synergy and divergence; collaborate in order to identify promising courses of action; and debate potential impact of different strategies.
As part of its own effort, the Cornell Alliance for Science that seeks to promote access to scientific innovation as a means of enhancing food security, improving environmental sustainability, and raising the quality of life globally, held an independent dialogue on Friday, July 23, looking specifically at the role that agricultural biotechnology can play in transforming global food systems.
Since the world’s hunger problem is nowhere close to being resolved, the Alliance is of the view that the hunger situation is precarious and COVID-19 making it worse. It is estimated that about 811 million people, 9.9 percent of the world’s population, still go hungry. Between 2019 and 2020 alone, the number of undernourished people grew by 161 million globally due to the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and conflict.
The UN’s SDG 2 says that by 2030, we should see an end to hunger and ensure food for everyone, including the poor and vulnerable. We’re clearly off track in terms of meeting that goal. Bold and drastic new ideas are needed to help turn the tide — ideas that independent dialogues and the Food Systems Summit are intended to generate.
Secondly, climate change will only worsen food security challenges because evidence is clearly showing that it is exacerbating food and water shortages, especially in poor countries. According to a report by the US National Intelligence Council (NIC), more extreme storms, droughts, floods, rising sea levels and hotter temperatures will make it even harder to produce sufficient food. So even if you are comfortable today, with plenty to eat, there is no guarantee that scenario will continue. Steps taken now can help ensure that people everywhere, including you, can eat in the years ahead.
Thirdly, the summit will shine an international spotlight on food issues and elevate public discussions on how to transform and reform our food systems. This global platform gives everyone a chance to weigh in on ways to make our food systems sustainable, resilient and productive enough to feed the world’s billions. At least 140 UN member states, as well as civil society groups and ordinary people, are participating. Beyond identifying concrete actions governments, local leaders, the private sector and the public need to take to meet the zero-hunger goal, the summit will develop a follow-up and review system to ensure that these plans are actually put into place. If you believe in the democratic form of governance, this is your chance to weigh in.
Finally, by all indications, the Food Systems Summit won’t be just another talk shop. It will align people working to transform food systems around a common practical framework and develop tools that will guide decision makers in making good choices.
The summit will also promote a science-policy interface on food system. This is a decade-long conversation that will unfold beyond the summit, with potential to be a game-changing moment for the world’s food supply. This is something you won’t want to miss.