Five ways Covid-19 could affect rural Africa – and what to do about it

Five ways Covid-19 could affect rural Africa – and what to do about it

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Covid-19 is expected to lead to large economic losses in Africa – with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa expecting economies to shrink by 2.6% in 2020. Lockdowns to prevent disease transmission can take a heavy toll on urban economies especially, closing down most services including tourism and much informal activity. The size and duration of this economic loss is uncertain, depending on how the disease develops and the measures taken to control it. Even less clear is how rural areas will be affected.

Drawing on lessons from previous health and economic crises, this blog explores five potential impacts of Covid-19 on agriculture, food systems, food security and rural livelihoods in Africa – and how to counter them.

Five potential impacts of Covid-19 on rural Africa

  1. The region’s agricultural output will fall, owing mainly to the reduced demand for high-value perishables and export crops, especially air-freighted exports (subscription required). Effects may be quite small for other crops, so long as disruptions to rural markets and supply chains are not severe. If farm input supply – or the finance that pays for it – is interrupted, then farms that depend significantly on external inputs may experience further declines. This will not be the case, however, for many smallholder farms.
  2. Women will probably face additional work in caring for the sick, on top of their often already heavy domestic workloads. Their daughters may be taken out of school to help them.
  3. Rural household incomes will fall, particularly for those that rely on high-value perishables and air-freighted export crops, on rural non-farm business and employment, or on remittances from migrants (subscription required).
  4. Some supply chain businesses – such as transporters, processors, traders – will reduce activity or shut if they deal with produce for which demand has fallen, transport is disrupted, or if closed down by disease controls. At worst, businesses will go bust – although some small and informal enterprises with few capital costs and overheads may survive if they can switch labour to other activities.
  5. Food insecurity may rise as incomes fall and agricultural prices increase owing to disrupted supply chains. If markets are closed, some households may lose access to food, or must buy from more distant centres at a higher cost. Households on low income may well switch to less nutritious food.

Such impacts will be highly uneven. Socially, infections and disease hit some hard, while others remain untouched. Economically, some households have resources to cope with loss of labour and income, while others cannot. Geographically, impacts will vary by farming systems – the type of crops and livestock produced, their dependence on labour and purchased inputs, and by the supply chains that link them to markets.


Read the full blog here.

This blog first appeared on the ODI site. 

Author: Steve Wiggins, ODI. 

Image courtesy of CIAT via Flickr.

The views are those of the author and not necessarily those of ETTG.

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